Linux Installs Are Never Easy

Does my blog have new PC smell tonight? I’m typing on an old laptop running a freshly installed version of Ubuntu Linux.

Quick explanation. Linux serves the same purpose as Windows or Mac OS. It is an operating system. Linux comes in a variety of ‘flavors’ of which Ubuntu is one.

Programs that run on Macs or Windows PCs (mainly) don’t run on Linux and vice versa.

Linux is free and user supported. It is often used in scientific applications or where 24/7/365 reliability is demanded.

Most of the Internet runs on Linux. Google, eBay, Facebook and Wikipedia all run on Linux servers. So does

My reason for Linux on this laptop is different. I needed a challenging tech problem. My mind has festered aimlessly for the last few months. This would force me to focus and concentrate.

Though Linux is a powerful operating system it has never been an easy install!

There’s a version of Ubuntu called Studio. It comes with programs specifically made for media manipulation. That sounded right for me.

Ubuntu Studio loaded perfectly… except for the systems that controlled WiFi and sound. I fixed the WiFi problem, but could never get the sound working.

There are compromises I’ll make, but sound? Nah.

I tried another version… and then another before finally getting one to install! Even then I had to use an arcane terminal program to manually entre the proper code to install WiFi.

In this regard Linux isn’t ready for prime time. This stuff should have been fixed years ago.

For web browsing and most of the usual Internet pursuits Linux is just fine (after you get it working). Actually it’s better than fine because virus writers leave it alone! There are too few Linux desktops to make it worth the hackers time! Helaine’s laptop has been running an earlier edition of Ubuntu for a few years with few problems.

It’s possible this laptop will end up with its screen off acting as a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack for web development. It’s probably where the next version of this blog will come from. Or it might go back on the shelf waiting for the next time I need a challenge.

Right now it’s the laptop under my fingers. That’s enough.

Helaine And The Penguin: My Wife’s Linux Laptop

To Helaine Ubuntu and Windows are functionally equivalent. To a hacker or virus planter there’s a huge difference. Their voodoo won’t harm her!

Just a few feet to my left Helaine is sitting with her laptop. I can’t see what she’s doing, but whatever it is she’s doing it without complaint. Her laptop no longer runs Windows. She’s running Ubuntu Linux.

After a few pointed questions I’ve come to the conclusion she doesn’t care. That’s great.

To Helaine Ubuntu and Windows are functionally equivalent. To a hacker or virus planter there’s a huge difference. Their voodoo won’t harm her!

The anticipation of this switchover was more painful than the switch itself. I backed up her critical files, inserted the Ubuntu disk and it just installed. Both the sound and WiFi were recognized and proper drivers installed.

Beyond logging onto our encrypted wireless network there was nothing to do. The laptop just worked on the first try!

That’s not to say there weren’t challenges. The current Linux version of Picasa has a well documented glitch that kept it from running. Of course the well documented glitch wasn’t seen by me until I installed it three times!

Some of what I did wouldn’t be obvious to a new user. That’s a Linux problem, though new Windows installation from scratch would bring some similar concerns.

I understood WINE needed to be installed for a few Windows only programs to run. No problem for me, but it must be frustrating to someone who can’t conceptualize why and just wasn’t expecting it.

Converting Helaine’s email files demanded some scrambling. She’s an Outlook Express user. I set up Thunderbird as her mail client because it’s quite similar.

Unfortunately Thunderbird won’t import Outlook Express files natively. There is a separate command line program that does the conversion. Files then have to be manually renamed. Again, not a big deal, but only if you know you have to do it.

I’m pretty impressed with Thunderbird. I hadn’t configured an email program in a long time, but as soon as I told Thunderbird Helaine’s mail address it went into its database and set all the server parameters automatically. Sweet.

The default Ubuntu look is a little utilitarian and dull. The default type is very small. I reconfigured the fonts and colors and even added Helaine’s desktop background from her Windows machine. It’s a little more finished now.

So far it’s running like a champ. It boots quickly. It’s been stable. All the functionality she wants and needs is there.

By the way, all of this is free! Where have I gone right?

I’m About To Perform The Great Linux Experiment On Helaine’s Laptop

I can reload Windows XP and take the chance of it happening again or just maybe I can switch her to the virtually virus free Ubuntu Linux.

Helaine’s laptop is infected again! Though I’ve removed most of the infection her browser is still being hijacked. Google results bring spammy non-Google ‘search’ sites. There’s surely stuff I can’t find. Other functions like sound are no longer reliable.

This virus is so good it managed to shut off Microsoft’s own Windows Security Essentials program! Thanks Bill.

This is not Helaine’s fault! Considering where I found most of the infected files it looks like she was fed an infected Java jar. It probably came from an otherwise trustworthy website via an infected ad.

A day after the infection Java posted one of their ‘too damn often’ security updates. Come to think of it Microsoft was in the midst of rolling out Security Essentials 2 then too. Coincidence? I think not.

I have two choices. I can reload Windows XP and take the chance of it happening again or just maybe I can switch her to the virtually virus free Ubuntu Linux.

She was at first skeptical. OK, she was skeptical at second too. Linux sounds geeky.

Certainly there will be a different look and different programs to use. Her browser will remain the same. Her email program will change.

Helaine is primarily a web browser. She doesn’t run very many discrete programs. Those she does use have native Linux versions or claim to run through WINE the Windows emulator.

Linux comes with a ‘live’ version allowing a quick try without committing to an installation. I loaded the CD and it works.

Tonight I’ll back up Helaine’s files and install Ubuntu. Wish me luck.

Better still wish Helaine luck.

The Penguin And I Are Fighting… Again

You might be wondering why I run Linux if it is sometimes a little difficult to deal with? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s like a geek’s medal of honor.

This will be short. I am not of good spirit. I am fighting with the Penguin–my euphemism for Linux.

Last week I attempted to install a little hardware addition to the Ubuntu Linux computer I use as my desktop at work. It didn’t work and I gave up trying!

Trying to get back to where I’d begun I uninstalled the new software I’d added to the machine. Bad move!

Today when the machine wasn’t working quite right I rebooted only to find the Internet was nowhere to be found! I probably had uninstalled the software that controls Internet access. The only way to reinstall is to go on the Internet to get the files.

Oops! no Internet.

My only simple choice is to reinstall the operating system from the ground up.

I backed up my customized files to a pen drive, burned a disk and am in the midst of watching screen-after-screen of Ubuntu promotion as new bits fill up the hard drive. Before I leave work tonight the machine will be up and running again.

You might be wondering why I run Linux if it is sometimes a little difficult to deal with? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s like a geek’s medal of honor.

You And The Penguin Aren’t Getting Along

I’m like the guys who built hot rods in the 50s and 60s–just with computers. That’s why I’m rebuilding something that worked fine, but could be coaxed to work finer.

“You and the penguin aren’t getting along.” It was Helaine. “I can tell.” She’s psychic about these things.

The penguin is ‘Fox housetalk’ for Linux, a computer operating system that’s sparsely used by folks at home. It is atop Linux that MythTV, my DVR software sits.

I know. This is really geeky. It’s my fun… when the penguin and I are speaking.

It hasn’t been good this weekend. Computers aren’t suppose to give you a different answer when doing the same thing multiple times. This Ubuntu Linux install did.

I’m a scrounger. I’m like the guys who built hot rods in the 50s and 60s–just with computers. That’s why I’m rebuilding something that worked fine, but could be coaxed to work finer.

I’m in the midst of rebuilding my DVR. It moved into a faster box, got a software update and acquired a digital tuner. I should be able to record non-scrambled high def shows in high def.

The problem is none of the digital station recording works! When it’s time to scan for channels it merely rolls through the dial without locking onto one. I can still record ‘old fashioned’ TV, but that’s not the point.

Others have had this problem and solved it. I will too.

At the moment it’s driving me a little crazy.

Meanwhile this newly assembled machine means two very old and now gutted computers will be thrown out. Though both are worthless the act itself pains me. It seems so wrong. It would be like throwing out wire or cable. You just don’t.

That New Computer Smell

A few days ago my desktop computer at work spontaneously changed its screen resolution to 1440×900 and would not let me revert to 1280×1024. Grrrrrr. I spent a few hours online going through other Linux related resolution questions before I finally said, “Screw it.”

I know–how totally nerdy to use Ubuntu Linux as my desktop. Contrary to popular belief there isn’t anything much I can do with Windows I can’t do with Linux. As long as my bosses don’t object I’m happy–and always virus free!

That being said Linux isn’t quite as user friendly as Windows, though it’s gotten a lot better over time. Today’s install went very smoothly with sound working immediately and Internet access (which is non-standard to my desk) taking just a few minutes more.

There’s not much I store on this machine. In fact I was surprised to see this box is running with a 20 Gb hard drive! That’s a thousand times larger than the first hard drive I owned butt still around 1/10th the size of the smallest drive you can buy today.

Before I reformatted this machine I transferred all my configuration scripts to a memory stick which I promptly left home! Oops. With a little Internet magic Helaine plugged the memory stick into Stef’s laptop and I plucked the files.

All I had to do was install them into the correct directory and set up the “cron” (a program which fires off certain tasks at specific times). What could be easier?

The scripts, which worked perfectly in the old machine, were dying a gruesome death in the new one! It took a phone call to my friend Bob in Florida to get them running. Why his solution worked is totally beyond me! Scripts which were working yesterday should have worked today.

So, my resolution is fixed and I’m up and running with a clean install of Ubuntu 9.04. Clean installs always work better and have that new computer smell.

Ubuntu releases a brand new Linux distribution every six months. October, next month, is the next scheduled push. I’ll probably do all of this again.

The New PC Build Begins

A Youtube video claiming a 20 minute build had me thinking I’d overestimated the job.

Nope–20 minutes passed with me barely scratching the surface.

the build begins.jpgAs mentioned earlier my major birthday gift was a new computer. I wanted something beefy and speedy. That meant no store bought PC, but something assembled here at home–literally on the kitchen table!

There was no time this weekend so I started tonight. A Youtube video claiming a 20 minute build had me thinking I’d overestimated the job.

Nope–20 minutes passed with me barely scratching the surface.

There is no instruction manual on how to go about this. Sure, every individual component has some sort of manual, but none of these parts are specifically meant to mate and the order of assembly is my choice alone.

On top of that there will be cables from the power supply left unconnected. Will they be the right ones? Will I forget something? Hopefully not.

I began installing the power supply, front panel card reader and a disk drive. Then I began to populate the motherboard with the CPU, fan/heat sink and video card. Once that was done I installed the nine standoffs and screws to attach it to the case.

pny video card.jpgThis is my first time with the new generation of powerful video cards. My card is quite imposing! It’s probably as powerful on its own as my last fully assembled PC.

I’m breaking now because there are parts I need to scavenge from an older machine. Then comes the installation of the operating systems (Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux) and drivers.

I might be done by tomorrow. Maybe not.

When finished the build will be fully documented in pictures and text.

The New Computer

Monday I was having a conversation with some folks at the station. They were surprised people build their own computers.

Nerd Alert!

This entry will be very dense and geeky. Don’t feel obliged to read it. To most people it will make little sense.

I ordered the components for my new computer Tuesday. Most of the order will be here Wednesday with one (important) piece arriving Friday. I have dealt with NewEgg before so this speed is no surprise. They ship from NJ and CA.

The machine will be built to speed up video and still production. Photo files have gotten much larger and difficult to easily handle. Video files, also larger, are often encoded in a way which makes them very CPU intensive when played or edited. My old computer is sometimes outmatched. Transocding video or making a large panorama can take hours!

I’m not sure this computer’s power will be very noticeable for web surfing.

There was more than one goal in mind while spec’ing out the components. Obviously, it had to be fast. Secondly, there was the matter of noise. Third… well you can spend as much as you wish! I wanted to show some restraint.

In the reviews for the pieces which will go in this box I searched for the words noise and silence.

The CPU or ‘brains’ will be an AMD Phenom II X4 945. I went with AMD instead of Intel strictly on price. The Intel chips are a little faster but they’re also a lot more money as are the compatible motherboards.

This chip is a quad core meaning there are four very fast computers in this one package. Today’s software can handle that allowing simultaneous programs to zip along without bothering each other.

As computer chips have moved through their generations the sockets they are plugged into have changed. This chip uses an AM3 socket which also supports DDR3 memory. That’s the fastest you can get. The machine starts with 4Gb, but there’s room for more and today’s 64 bit operating systems handle more.

The motherboard is from ASUS. They have an excellent reputation. This has the features I need, but most motherboards do. It doesn’t have integrated video, which most boards do have, but which I didn’t need.

Originally I’d spec’ed out a video card with ATI chips. My friend Bob said there had been some compatibility with ATI and Linux (this system will boot to both Linux and Windows 7, though not at the same time) so I moved to an Nvidia card. Both are very fast. I needed two output channels as I use two 19″ montiors for 2560×1080 resolution.

Video cards are becoming more important as some video/photo editing math has been moved from the main CPU to the processor on the video card which is specifically optimized to perform these calculations.

My power supply is an OCZ because the overall buyer ratings were good as was the price and the comments which mentioned noise. Seven hundred watts should be more than enough. Good grief, it had better be!

The case really puzzled me. I’m not sure how to quantify this purchase which seems like it should be nothing more than a commodity–a box with standardized hole spacing to mount the whole shooting match. I settled on a CoolerMaster which got good reviews and had audio, USB and Firewire ports on the front.

Sorry, no LED encrusted fans, cold cathode lights or ruby red tansparent side panels. Some people customize the look as if these computers were hot rods. That’s actually not far from what this machine will be but aesthetics are low on my list.

Just in case I hadn’t gone far enough I added a noise dampening kit which mounts soft sound absorbent pads on the case’s walls. It was under $10 and seemed like good extra protection.

There’s a ‘small’ 250Gb SATA drive coming as the system drive. The 1Tb drive currently in my main computer will move here for data. Two DVDRW drives will come from older machines as well.

As mentioned earlier this will be a dual boot machine. There will be a partition for Ubuntu Linux and another for Windows 7. It doesn’t make sense not to have a Linux side.

Monday I was having a conversation with some folks at the station. They were surprised people build their own computers. It’s a very small minority and probably getting smaller. Years ago there was a price saving. It’s much less now.

It is very easy to do. The whole shooting match shouldn’t take more than a few hours to complete–maybe less. It can all be done without instructions because most components can only go in the right place!

I’ve designed systems before. There is a definite sense of accomplishment when you know the computer’s performance has been enhanced by decisions you made.

A New Computer–Possibly

Oh techie friends. I am considering building a new system and was looking for a little input.

Oh techie friends. I am considering building a new system and was looking for a little input.

I’ve had a lot of luck with AMD processors and appreciate the lower price point. I will stick with that. I’m open nearly everywhere else.

Here are my early thoughts:


Video card

Power supply


I’ll probably reuse my current SATA hard drive and IDE optical drives. I’m unsure about what to do for a case, though that seems reasonably unimportant. For the time being I’d run dual boot with Ubuntu and Windows 7.

I am looking for comments and suggestions. All will be appreciated.

Linux Matures

My desktop machine at work runs Linux as its operating system&#185. It has for years.

I’ve always used the excuse we run some applications on it that can’t be easily run on Windows. That’s true. It’s also my toy.

As part of my bargain with the technogods at work, I scrounge around the IT department, looking for PCs pulled from service. Over the past few years, my desktop has always been a generation or two behind state of the art.

That’s fine.

Recently, the station was ‘retiring’ a server. It no longer had a hard drive or any RAM. It was a dual core Pentium machine with an integrated Intel video system on the motherboard. It became mine.

I tried loading Linux on this machine a few months ago with limited results. In fact, I ended up going back to my Pentium III 800 mHz machine with 128 mb of RAM.

Now, with Ubuntu Linux v7.10 out, I tried again.

Wow! Linux is here.

The distribution installed easily and this computer sings. And, since it doesn’t run Windows programs, it won’t ‘run’ viruses and spyware aimed at a Windows audience.

Unless you really need Windows for a specific application, I’m pretty sure Linux will easily fill the bill.

Today, there are Linux office suites, graphics programs, multimedia players and pretty much everything else you’d find on a store bought PC. They, and Linux itself, are free.

Companies like Asus are selling off-the-shelf Linux loaded laptops and Wal*Mart is stocking Linux equipped desktop machines. The prices are hundreds of dollars less than comparable Windows boxes.

If I was Microsoft, I’d start worrying. There has been a loud cry of unhappiness from their users.

Their most recent operating system iteration, Vista, seems designed more to satisfy the RIAA and MPAA than its actual customers! Some features that existed on earlier operating systems have been removed or neutered on Vista. Meanwhile, Wal*Mart and Asus are legitimizing their free competitor.

Propeller heads like me aren’t what’s going to give Linux critical mass. It’s going to take exposure in retail outlets. And that’s what’s happening.

If you’re at all curious about computing… if you’ve got an older PC you want to play with… I recommend Ubuntu Linux. I’m very happy with it and I suspect you will be too.

&#185 – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

An operating system (OS) is the software that manages the sharing of the resources of a computer and provides programmers with an interface used to access those resources. An operating system processes system data and user input, and responds by allocating and managing tasks and internal system resources as a service to users and programs of the system. At the foundation of all system software, an operating system performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, prioritizing system requests, controlling input and output devices, facilitating networking and managing file systems. Most operating systems come with an application that provides a user interface for managing the operating system, such as a command line interpreter or graphical user interface. The operating system forms a platform for other system software and for application software.

The most commonly-used contemporary desktop and laptop (notebook) OS is Microsoft Windows. More powerful servers often employ Linux, FreeBSD, and other Unix-like systems. However, these operating systems, especially Mac OS X, are also used on personal computers.

Geoff The Spy

Like so many of us, as he upgraded his PC, my friend John&#185 didn’t know what to do with the old one. He had a relative, a grown man, with no computer, and John asked if I’d set him up with this old one.

This is something I’ve done dozens of times, and I almost always reinstall Windows. This time, I thought I’d try something a little different.

The end user wasn’t going to play games or work in multimedia. He was going to use the computer for web surfing and email. Instead of Windows, I installed Ubuntu Linux.

My thought is, this guy doesn’t know anything technical. Why saddle him with an operating system that’s got a bullseye on it, attractive to anyone writing spyware or viruses?

The install went flawlessly. I inserted the Ubuntu disk, answered a few questions (actually, John did all of this) and let the PC do its thing. The only bumps in the road had to do with installing Flash (I wish Ubuntu came with this already installed) and attempting to upgrade the video driver.

I rebooted after updating the driver and ended up with a blank screen! Damn you penguin. As has happened so often in the past, I had fixed the computer to the point of breaking it!

The bad video driver was quickly removed. John watched as I typed some cryptic commands into a text based terminal screen. One bad part of Ubuntu (and all Linux distributions) is, most people would be lost at this point with a dead PC! There are fewer ‘Geoff’s’ to call for technical assistance with this esoteric operating system.

John was pretty pleased (and hopefully his relative will be pleased too). The old computer is quite agile and more than beefy enough for its new assignment.

Refurbishing this computer was the purpose of his trip, but John brought more goodies with him. His wife’s company had thrown out some older laptops… which she then rescued from the trash. I could have one, but there was a problem. It was unusable!

The laptop, a very sweet Fujitsu Lifebook Series B subnotebook (a tiny laptop, perfect for traveling) had Windows 2000 installed and was password protected. The password kept me from getting to the programs and the lack of a CD drive kept me from installing a new operating system (like Linux) as a replacement.

In situations like this, I become obsessed.

The Fujitsu has only a USB external floppy drive. It was a comedy of errors as I realized none of my current home machines had floppies, plus I had no floppy disks. There was lots of ad libbing and part swapping to be done.

I scrounged the hardware, then headed to the net, trying to find a solution. Amazingly enough, there are simple single floppy programs which will read and then allow you to overwrite a password. I didn’t have to crack the code. I just inserted my password where the original had been.

I felt like a spy as the computer was now programmed to consider me the administrator.

This was great for me, but you have to worry about the level of protection built into today’s modern computers. In essence, Microsoft led the original owners to believe these laptops were under electronic lock and key. A guy in his pajamas sitting on the floor shouldn’t be able to crack open this laptop… but I did.

Before I went to bed, the laptop downloaded a few years worth of patches from the Microsoft site and was fitted with a wireless card.

This morning, I brought the machine downstairs and played with it a little while eating my breakfast. I was proud of my accomplishment.

“Why do you need another computer,” Helaine asked?

It’s an obsession I suppose. Some folks go nuts over shoes or jewelry or cars. For me, it’s wire and computers. Neither should ever be thrown out – ever.

&#185 – John’s friends call him “Big John.” He is a massive man, well over six feet tall. John’s heart is proportional to his height.

Making The Switch At Work

I decided it was time to get a faster computer at work. No problem. I enjoy re-working older machines, so I just went to our IT guy and asked for the next machine they were cycling out.

Wow – what a find. It’s a beefy IBM with a dual core 2.8 GHz Pentium 4. It lived a previous life as a server. There was no hard drive and only 256 mb RAM. That was fine. I had some hardware at home which was never going to be used. It’s in this IBM box now.

I downloaded, burned and installed Ubuntu Version 7.04. It went in seamlessly. This is very impressive. Linux is never easy. In this case at least, Ubuntu was every bit as simple to install as Windows.

In order to have some time to do it right, I brought the computer home and did my installation there. I guess this is the true definition of bringing your work home with you!

Today I brought it in with the intention of swapping it for the old one – true plug and play. I should be so lucky.

Between the version of Ubuntu I had been using and this one small things had changed. Files which were in one directory were now in another. Stuff like that.

The video wasn’t right for my monitor. That’s always perplexing, but a quick check (on another machine) online found the solution (control-alt-backspace).

It might take a day or two to get this puppy up and running, but no more than that. In the meantime, a computer which was probably destined for the the trash or storage is making my life a little easier. How sweet is that?

A little nerd love, please.

Mail Changes For Me

I’ve decided to make some mail changes. Nothing you’ll notice, but it’s a big change for me. I’ve moved all my mail to Gmail servers, run by Google.

Whatever your email address, someone is hosting two mailservers for you. There’s one to send (SMTP) and another to receive (POP). My servers had been at Hostforweb, who also maintains the server this blog sits on.

My problem is, I check email from a few machines at home and another at work. I had to make sure all my emails got to one specific machine for archiving. That meant if I looked at my mail on one of the other machines first, I’d see the same unread email over and over.

Moving to Gmail allows me to use a web interface. Anything I do on one machine is seen on any machine! No more repetition.

Unfortunately, a web interface is slower. That’s the price you pay. It’s even worse on my ‘desktop’ machine at work, an old Pentium 900 with 256 mb RAM, running Ubuntu Linux.

Here’s how it works. mailserver is actually hosted by Google Apps. Once received, it is automatically forwarded to a Gmail account which also gets mail for a few other accounts I have.

I like Gmail, but I wish it were more versatile as far as ‘canned’ responses or signature files are concerned. There’s not much you can do there with pre-written files… though there’s lots I want to try.

As long as I’ve switched over to Gmail, I’ve also started using Google Calendar, which is integrated into the mail page. I’d like to be a little more organized. Maybe the ability to have this same calendar wherever I am will help me become more structured.

Google has a nice suite of applications, including online word processor and spreadsheet (which doesn’t read the overnight ratings I’m sent every day). Every part of it is free. It desparately needs a ‘to do’ list.

Switching to Gmail removed the spam filtering Hostforweb employs. H4W used to discard some email before they ever got to my inbox. Now everything gets to my account, though much is filtered into a spam folder.

I’m getting well over 100 spam a day on alone! Luckily, I only see them when I need to.

Scary Multimedia

As I type this entry, I’m playing poker and watching 60 Minutes, all on my laptop. I’m in the family room, but I could be anywhere in the house or nearby.

Until a few minutes ago, we had been using an 802.11b Wifi wireless network. The pipe wasn’t wide enough to pass high quality video. Now it’s 802.11g.

Simply, I increased the network capacity a factor of five just by substituting one piece of hardware for another. The additional investment was under $50. The practical implication is, my DVR&#185 can now push high quality, full motion video over our in-house wireless network.

When I put the original wired/wireless network in, there was no hint it might not produce enough bandwidth. In fact, when that original network went in, my connection to the outside world was through a dial-up modem.

Now, I realize, this new network is just an interim step in a never ending search for unlimited bandwidth. I will constantly need more bandwidth in-house and more bandwidth from the outside world. There will be more reasons to push bits around the house.

Some of those reasons, like video, I understand. Other reasons probably don’t yet exist.

Here’s how more bandwidth changes my DVR. Until recently, if I wanted to look at a recorded show without sitting in front of the actual DVR computer, I copied the whole file, machine-to-machine, across the network.

Even on the fastest in-house connections, computers that are wired not wireless, it took a few minutes to move a file to the playback machine (my typical video file runs approximately 2 Gb per hour). Now I can stream to the playback machine, moving only the bits needed when they’re needed. Playback starts instantly.

This little hardware switch also allows me to use a new piece of software, the MythTV Player. I’m watching 60 Minutes using it right now.

There’s nothing about this player that looks any different as it sits on my computer desktop. What it does do is read markers produced as my DVR records shows. They point to the beginning and end of commercial breaks. This player automatically removes the commercial breaks as you watch a show… and it’s been very effective so far.

As you might imagine, this is pretty scary to over-the-air and cable television stations, which make their money selling commercials. That’s how my employer pays my salary.

Luckily for me, the immediate nature of TV news makes it relatively DVR proof. That’s not true for most entertainment programming. Viewers should understand – no one will pay for big budget programming unless there are big budget returns.

This technology is changing the landscape of television. Some of the changes will be very good. Other aspects are sad. Without revenue, highly produced programming will disappear.

What good is having unfettered access, if there’s nothing to access?

&#185 – My DVR is a homebuilt computer running MythTV software on top of Ubuntu Linux. The guts of the computer were being thrown away. I added a $75 card and extra hard drive. My only other cost was time and a modicum of grief.

My Personal, Personal Video Recorder

Months ago, from the scraps of old computers, I pieced together a Personal Video Recorder or Disk Video Recorder or Digital Video Recorder – I never know which name is right. Take your pick.

That it ran at all was a surprise!

Over time I added extra hard drive space and a new CPU/motherboard combo. Anything that could fit in, and was heavily discounted, flew its way to my house. I was happy to take out a Phillips head screwdriver and do battle. I know my way around the inside of a computer case.

I chose KnoppMyth as my software. Hmmm…. this is going to get a little geeky, but I’ll give it a try.

MythTV is a software package to ‘make’ a DVR. It runs on Linux – the operating system that talks to the hardware in your computer. Linux is an operating system, like Windows XP is an operating system.

Linux is free and freely modifiable. And, it’s free as in, “Here it is.” It’s not free as in, “Here’s a copy of Windows XP I downloaded off the net, along with this serial number.”

So far, so good.

I say Linux, there is really no specific software called Linux.

There is Ubuntu Linux and Fedora Core Linux and Red Hat Linux, etc. Each is slightly different for slightly different reasons. Remember, it’s free. If you wanted to form a group with friends or with your evil twin to make a Linux distribution, more power to you. It’s allowable and encouraged.

KnoppMyth, the DVR software I used, combines a Linux ‘flavor’ (Knoppix Linux) with MythTV. It’s downloaded and then burned onto a disk. It’s the computer equivalent of making a Betty Crocker cake.

I like KnoppMyth, but it has its shortcomings. It isn’t 100% up-to-date and there are a few nagging bugs. Any time I’ve attempted to update or fix something, I’ve broken then entire installation.

Since KnoppMyth doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer, I decided to try to roll my own MythTV installation – combining MythTV with a Linux operating system. That’s how I wasted a good part of Sunday!

My attempt was to add MythTV to Ubuntu&#185 Linux. Makes your head spin? I should have said the same thing and stopped right there.

“How tough could it be,” I said to myself?

All day Helaine reminded me, “Messing with the penguin,” the penguin being our euphemism for Linux, “never ends up being a good experience.”

Before bedtime Sunday night, I had given up on mating Ubuntu and MythTV… but I hadn’t given up on the quest.

Today, while I was at work, my PC was downloading Fedora Core 5 – another Linux flavor. It was a 3+ Gb download! Now, home and in pajamas, I’ve burning it onto five CDs.

There’s a website which describes the process of mating Fedora with the very latest MythTV version. It looks easy, though it’s 29 printed pages (honest).

I could have gone back to KnoppMyth, but that was too easy. I want the feeling of accomplishment that is only earned following feelings of frustration and angst.

I’ll report back after the installation is finished, or the penguin and I have settled our score for good.

&#185 – Ubuntu seems to be the Linux distribution garnering the most favor right now. Forgetting MythTV for a second, Ubuntu was easily installed and came fully stocked with the programs most folks need on a daily basis.

As opposed to earlier Linux distributions, Ubuntu found and installed drivers for my sound and video cards without asking. It found its IP address for web surfing. It worked right out of the box.

I would recommend Ubuntu for any non-gamer who uses their computer for web surfing, IM chatting, word processing, email and other ‘normal’ web pursuits.

Right now at least, Ubuntu and the other Linux distributions are virtually virus and spyware free and they nearly never crash!

Blogger’s note: I worked on this project until 4:00 AM. Tuesday morning, I picked it up for a while, but it’s not done yet. Amazingly, after all my original downloading, most of the install time has been spent downloading newer files to replace the ones I got yesterday.

When I was providing input, it was copying intensely dense computer code from a web page to a ‘terminal’ window. I’d hit enter and the screen would look like hieroglyphs were flashing by until I had to ‘feed the beast’ again.

Hopefully I can complete the task later tonight.