Friday, 25 December 2009

Why I (think I) Hate Linux!

A while ago I decided that I just had to find out about Linux.

Why? Because it was there, probably.

It was supposed to be "the dog's whatsits" and "free", and "capable of running on low spec machines", etc etc, so I installed Debian on an old surplus PC and ran it.

A day or two later it fell over due to having used up all the allocated hard disk space, so I gave up. I hate giving up!

Some time later I reasoned that one really had to have a proper reason for learning something as arcane as Linux, and when I though really hard about it I thought that it would be a worthwhile objective to run a web server and host some web sites, and Linux seemed to be an ideal vehicle with which to do just that. If I should become reasonably competent at hosting web sites, it might conceivably save me some money too! (My commericially hosted sites don't actully consume much network bandwidth!)

I regard myself as "computer literate", but not really a "computer geek" - I can do a bit of HTML, I used to program BBC Micros for fun in my younger days in Basic and Assembler, but once PCs running Windows took over, my expertise remained at the level of getting Windows PCs working properly.

So I decided to set up a dual-boot PC (having two sons who have upgraded to bigger and faster PCs, subsidised to a certain degree by a benevolent parent I find I have "erstwhile fast" PCs to spare) running a newly installed Kubuntu distribution as well as the previously installed Windows XP.

I experienced no major problems in getting this working as an operating system with a useable GUI, so I then set about installing and configuring the famous Apache web server and other sundry "helper" applications such as ProFTPd, Webmin, Webalizer, etc.

This is where it all started to get a tad too "interesting" for comfort.

Apache itself installed without too many problems, getting it configured proved slightly problematical, but I got there in the end. There is an abundance of "help" on the internet as you might expect, but one heck of a lot of seemingly contradictory information. We all get used to that, so no big deal. BUT, I am getting the impression that the Linux community in general isn't exactly what you would call "inclusive". If you use Google, say, to find information on a particular problem you may have it returns lots of hits. Good. Some of the information results from people having exactly the same issues that you are having (reassuring) but often the requests for information result in "if you are so stupid as to be even asking that question, then why are you running Linux, you should stick with Windows, dunderhead!" (I paraphrase). It appears that the Geeks want to retain Linux for themselves!

A little bit further along the path of discovery I decided that I would really like to sort out the mess which my Linux box had got into by a combination of failed updates and my own incompetence, in other words completely reformat the PC and start again from scratch, but with enhanced knowledge and hopefully a reasonable prosepect of "doing it right".

Now in order to do that, my little hosted web sites would be offline for however long it took me to get up and running again, so I thought it would be nice to have a "backup server" to put on line whilst I did this.

Again after a bit of thought I reckoned a nice way forward would be to install Linux onto a USB hard drive which I happened to have available, get the web server running on that with a copy of the relevant files, and run this from another PC whilst I did the necessary on the main Linux box. Great idea, I thought. I had originally considered trying to achieve this objective using a USB pen drive, but eventually decided against it, as I felt I needed to define the IP address of the host machine, and the USB pen drive version I tried only allowed DHCP address allocation. This may not necessarily have been a show-stopper, but I decided against it anyway.

So another Kubuntu installation was born, with a lot of advice from Pendrive Linux and Apache installed, along with a number of the other "helper" applications I mentioned above.

You would have thought that getting all this working would have been practically the same as the first time round wouldn't you? Wrong!
All kinds of configuration anomalies cropped up - all were dealt with but I rather resented having to do it at all!

Additionally the bootloader/manager (GRUB) appears to have done bizarre things to my host PC such that I can't even boot into Windows unless my USB hard drive is connected and on line. This may have been due to "hidden" partitions on my Dell PC being made visible - Windows/DOS if I recall correctly can only be booted from the first partition on a hard drive - GRUB found out about the Dell recovery partition and made it visible. (Is this a beef about MS-DOS or GRUB, I'm not exactly sure which?)

Plus I still haven' figured out how to gain access to all those Apache access logs so that can analyze them ... (Something to do with PIDs and locked files and permissions and CRON jobs and other aspects of sheer undiluted Geekiness ... (I think!))

To summarise all of the above what I would say is that (a) Linux isn't really for non-Geeks, and seems destined to remain so and (b) if you want reminding of how Windows used to be prior to Windows 95 in terms of getting stuff working and being fragile, then go ahead and install Linux!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

WSPR - Low Power Beacons and Beaconing (and snow...)

I'm not sure if the word "Beaconing" actually exists or if I've just made it up. WSPR has been around for a while and as I am enjoying a break from work, and am "excused" household DiY duties on the basis that (a) it's Christmas and (b) it's freezing cold, I have been up to some serious dabbling with my Amateur Radio hobby. My objective this holiday was to get stuck into Eden Valley Radio Society's "Eden 9 Project" - a 70MHz SSB QRP transceiver, and at the moment I haven't made much forward progress, but I still intend to do so. However, WSPR crept into my consciousness again and I indulged myself, and as often happens with these kind of specialist interests, things spiralled off in a slightly different direction to that which I intended. To cut a long story short the unusually cold weather has deposited quite a significant amount of snow on the roof of my house, and the roof of my house is where some of my Amateur Radio antennae are. It is trying to analyse (albeit in a casual, qualitative way) the effect of that snow on the performance of my WSPR set-up which has taken me off in flights of fantasy and let me to the conclusion that the "double helping" of snow has reduced the potency of my WSPR transmissions by around 13 dB, or to one twentieth of what it was before, in layman's terms. Well that is something I didn't know a couple of days ago! In case you don't know what either snow looks like, or indeed a roof, then may I refer you to Snow

Here we go ... !

I've often wondered why people blog, and wondered also whether or not I should join in. However, as I have read snippets of other people's efforts and found quite a number of them interesting at one level or another, I thought to myself "the hell with it, I'll have a go!" One of the features of the Internet of course is that although there is much out there of interest, there is much more which appalls, annoys infuriates, etc, but one is so used to this that one simply "clicks on by" until something altogether more appealing turns up. So anyone finding my ramblings (I have no intention of making this post particularly organised) interesting in some way is welcome to stop by, and if you are completely disinterested, then by all means "click on by". I don't have any particular axes to grind, I'm just a regular "family guy" with a wife, two grown up sons (no grand-sprogs yet!), a number of bizarre leisure interests, politically outspoken amongst my close acquaintances but not politically active and whose biggest dislike is the effect of the passing years (I'm 52 years old) on one's physical and mental abilities. My second biggest dislike is bad manners. That's it, end of first ever blog!