Crunchbang Linux Review

This is a review I wrote and posted to a few weeks ago upon putting Crunchbang on my new laptop. I should note that I’m as happy with it now as I was a few weeks ago when I wrote this.

I decided to try crunchbang on a new laptop I just got because it looked fast and sleek, with no wasted screen or packages. I have to say I am pleased with how the distribution runs, looks, and is supported by the community.

Since it doesn’t use any of the mainstream graphical environments, it might be a little unfamiliar to inexperienced users. Working with Openbox and the other tools packaged with crunchbang (like conky, tint2, dmenu, and gmrun) feels very much like Linux about 8 years ago. There are some graphical configuration utilities, but usually, it’s simpler, easier, and preferred to just edit the config files manually. This definitely requires a more experienced and knowledgeable user, but that is the audience crunchbang is intended for. There is even a disclaimer on the distro’s website explaining the the distro isn’t intended for people looking for a simple, easy to use *buntu type distro, so a user shouldn’t be surprised by this.

Crunchbang is built on Debian stable and is available in both 32 and 64 bit versions, preloaded either with Openbox or XFCE; I opted for Openbox since it was an environment I didn’t have any exposure to. Installation followed the standard Debian graphical or text based installation. My only issue arose from the fact that the kernel packaged with Debian stable is getting a little long in the tooth and didn’t recognize either my wired or wireless network card on my new Sandy Bridge laptop. I was able to skip over the network setup step during installation, though, and the rest caused me no issues. After installation, I had to download a newer kernel image from the Debian testing repository on a different machine and then manually install it in order to get networking working so I could properly install an up to date kernel.

Although the installation doesn’t offer any chance to customize package installation during the install process, the “cb-welcome” script that runs automatically on the first log in offers you the option to add packages and customize the installation.

From this point, you’re pretty much on your own. The biggest point to make is this: crunchbang requires work to get it set up and customized the way you like it. In fact, you’ll probably never be through customizing and modifying the system. I particularly like the inclusion of the “conky” system monitor, which allows you to display a wide range of system health and status parameters. It’s a great addition and is set up with a simple baseline configuration that you can use easily to expand to further display information important to you.

My biggest personal complaint is that the distro is built on Debian stable. This is great for people using older hardware, or running important production systems, but crunchbang even says that it’s not intended for that, so building the distro on Debian testing would seem to make more sense. For the target audience of experienced Linux users and hobbyists looking to tinker with a system, rolling Testing would seem to make sense. The solution to this problem is quite simple, however, just adding a few lines to the /etc/apt/preferences file adds the testing repo. Just do a sudo apt-get update and sudo apt-get dist-upgrade and the system will update itself to the full Debian Testing rolling release model. I think this should be available as an option in the cb-welcome script, which would be on par with crunchbang’s philosophy of allowing the user the maximum amount of customizability from a well built baseline.

Overall, for an experienced user looking for a well designed, sleek, fast, and light distribution, crunchbang is a perfect option. The community, both on the forums and IRC channel is helpful and available to assist with configuration. Also, since it leverages the Debian base, much of the information that pertains to the big name Debian distros applies to crunchbang as well.

I’m back

Well, after a multiple year break, I guess I’m back. Gonna see if I keep this thing up for any appreciable amount of time, but we’ll see. Hope I have some interesting things to say.

TypeMatrix 2030 Keyboard

Recently, I was given a new TypeMatrix keyboard as a gift, and I’ve been using it for several weeks since then. Overally, I’m very ahppy with this new keyboard. I’ve been particularly interested in alternative/different input devices since I first started using computers.

TypeMatrix 2030

The primary interesting and different feature of this keyboard is that rather than having the keys slightly offset as they are on a regular QWERY keyboard, they are lined up in perfectly straight rows. Supposedly, this is easier on one’s hands, since instead of having to move constantly in a diagonal direction, your fingers can move just straight up and down across the keyboard.

One of the primary difficulties with trying out new keyboards is the fact that there is usually a learning curve associated with getting used to a new keyboard. This usually takes the form of becoming accustomed to a new key arrangement. One feature in this vein is the centrally located Backspace and Enter keys, which I use my index fingers to hit. These serve to split the keyboard in half and separate the user’s hands, as well as allow the user to use these often-hit keys with their strongest fingers (index) rather than their weakest (pinky). I found the placement of these keys to be quite easy to get used to. In fact, now when I go back and use a standard keyboard, I often find myself reaching for the center when I’m trying to hit Enter or Backspace. Other than the Backspace and Enter keys, the only other major learning point for me are P, Q and Z. On standard keybaords, I hit these with my ring fingers, however, on a TypeMatrix, they are positioned for the pinky. The Q and Z keys are used so infrequently that I rarely find them to be a problem, however, the P key took some getting used to. After only a few sessions of using the keyboard, however, I had little or no problem hitting the P correctly without haivng to spend time thinking about it.

In addition, TypeMatrix produces keyboard covers that change the keyboard layout from QWERTY to Dvorak, as well as a button on the keyboard to change this setting. I don’t personally use Dvorak, so I can’t speak to its use.

Overall, this keyboard is a good, quality product that I would recommend to others interested in different keyboard.

Appleton Sunset

Set23Enhancer3from_DSC_0111, originally uploaded by rearden888.

This is a photo I took of last night’s sunset in Appleton and then worked over a bit in Photomatix. I think overall it looks good, although I may play with the settings some more. Please feel free to post some comments on the photo.


Just upgraded from WordPress 2.0 to 2.1.3, I’m hoping this will fix my problem with the theme reverting back to the default.  Anyone who notices anything weird, please feel free to drop me a line and let me know.  Thanks!

Copyright Review Board Decision

Today, we all once again see the horrible result of government interference in business. Today, the copyright review board instated odious royalty payments on internet radio companies specifically. This is ridiculous because the Copyright Review board is specifically targeting internet streaming radio, for some reason. I believe this is being driven by a set of old companies (represented by the RIAA) trying to squeeze everything they can out of new, hot young companies that are innovating much faster than the RIAA is capable. Please take a moment and send a petition to your representative to ask them to take action:

More on Ubuntu

I’ve been using Ubuntu for almost a month now and continue to find it superior to any Linux variant I’ve used previously. Everything about it is more polished and smoother than in other Linux distributions. This is the only one I’ve used that actually feels like it could be an operating system that I would be comfortable installing for customers or employees to use. That, I think, is the most important benchmark for the evolution of Linux.

Using Ubuntu

I’ve been a lifelong computer user and experimenter.  I went to college for computer science and learned quite a bit about programming.  Consequently, I have using Linux in some form or another for several years.  I started out with Fedora which was fine, but I found it somewhat buggy, and I never got sound to work.  Thereafter, I got brave, and switched to Gentoo.  I like the power Gentoo allows the user, and I like the ability to customize the build structure, but Gentoo had the drawback of requiring a lot of time in the area of care-and-feeding.  Many times after I upgraded the system I had some sort of blocking package problem, or a messed up config file, or a missing kernel module or something similar that required anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours of troubleshooting and work to fix.  Normally, I don’t mind working on my computer, but it got to happen so often in Gentoo that I just started to get tired of it.  Gentoo taught me much, however on the general organization of a Linux system, I completely got over my fears of working with and compiling kernels, since I had to do it so often, and I know a lot of specifics of how to modify particular config files and such.  It was also useful training in learning troubleshooting skills, especially in reference to the X Windows system. 

However, I really don’t want to have to deal with those sorts of problems every day anymore, especially not on my Linux laptop, an older Sony Vaio slim and light.  That’s why I installed Ubuntu over the weekend.  I’d spent quite a while researching and investigating different distributions.  I looked in to Fedora again, as well as openSUSE, but neither one of them looked to be exactly what I wanted.  I’d never used a Debian based distribution before, but I thought I’d give it a shot. 

I installed the Ubuntu Fiesty Fawn 7.04 Beta to test.  I found the installation process to be an easy and simple process.  In my case, my hard drive was already partitioned and ready to go so I didn’t have to mess around with that.  In fact, I was able to keep my previous /home partition, which made migration simple.  In particular, I think the idea of having the installtion work through a LiveCD is brilliant.  I wish other distributions would follow Ubuntu’s lead on this and have their installers work this way.  It seems an eminently logical way to build an installtion program, especially given how prevalent LiveCD’s have become in the past couple of years. 

In addition, I never had to deal with any software incompatiabilities, and all the drivers (including sound, my constant nemesis in Linux) worked straight out of the box.  I’m impressed with the funtionality provided so far in Synaptic (Ubuntu’s package management software) and have also been impressed with this piece of software so far.  I’m no “free-software” purist by any stretch, so I’ve been using the “multiverse” software selection, and haven’t yet found any installation to be a problem.  Also, the fact that Flash and other such “restricted” technologies work out of the box as well was particularly nice since I had trouble getting Flash to work on Gentoo.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Ubuntu so far and look forward learning and exploring this excellent distribution further.

Google Office commotion

Recently, there has been a lot of talk lately about some so called “Google Office” product. This surprises me particularly because no such thing actually exists yet, nor ever has. I’ve worked with all of the software that commentators claim would be part of this phantom Google Office, were it to ever actually appear, and none of them compete with the full-fledged office suites offered either as FOSS or by companies like Microsoft. There are several reasons why at this point, I doubt that web-based AJAX-y tools are capable of even creating a dent in thick-client software for these types of uses for the foreseeable future. There are several reasons for this. First of all, businesses have already made a substantial investment not only in dollars, but in terms of training and familiarity. Secondly, most businesses will not be willing to rely on their internet connection for things so simple as word processing and spreadsheets. These are often the fall back job functions that employees use in times when their internet fails for some reason. There is also the security concern inherent anytime you deal with using hosted services with what could theoretically be confidential business information. All of these reasons will probably combine to make businesses squeamish and unlikely to adopt this sort of hosted services for such simple processes as basic word processing and spreadsheets.

It is possible that individuals with less to lose in the event of lost network connectivity and confidential information will adopt these services to avoid paying the substantial price charged by the likes of Microsoft and to avoid having to support software installations on their home computers, but that probably won’t amount to a significant revenue stream for the companies providing the services, unless they can leverage the services for better advertising results.  I think the amount of innovation surrounding many of the services provided by Web 2.0 is exciting and worthy of admiration.  However, as with the original web boom in the late 90′s, it will take some time for all these ideas to mature into true business models.

FBI Internet Monitoring

Recently, it came out in this article that the FBI has been monitoring entire network segments when targeting terror suspects. Now, I’m as concerned as anyone about “homeland security” and find the opportunities afforded the Law Enforcement and Intelligence communities by the ubiquity of information technology exciting, however, as is usually the case with new technology, it also has the possibility for immoral and dangerous use.

I find the continued action by various government bodies in reading the information flowing through an entire “segment’s” internet connection with the goal of catching one particular person disturbing and an improper use of information surveillance. As many other have no doubt posited, surveillance of a particular person with court and other legal oversight should be perfectly legal and used in any case where it could benefit an anti-terrorism or criminal investigation. However, this should only be used when it can target exactly the individual in question and does not include surveillance of innocent people’s privacy whose information privacy is not authorized by courts.

Basically, the government must be forced to err on the side of protecting the individual rights of innocent civilians rather than watching whole groups of people with the hope of finding incriminating evidence against an individual.