The world according to Robin

A techno-related blog with tips and tricks, and the occasional rave about… anything!

If you find that your laptop touchpad is not working after upgrading to Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid, it may be that your SHMConfig is not enabled.  The official instructions are to open a terminal and enter the following command:

gksudo gedit /etc/hal/fdi/policy/shmconfig.fdi 

Then put this into the file (which was empty in my case):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>
<deviceinfo version="0.2"> 
	<device>
		<match key="input.x11_driver" string="synaptics">
			<merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">True</merge>
		</match> 
	</device>
</deviceinfo>

After a reboot, your touchpad is hopefully working again. Also, you should have a Touchpad entry in the System menu: System -> Preferences -> Touchpad

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Rip and shrink copy-protected DVDs

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When you buy a DVD movie at the shop you would like the opportunity to back it up. However, due to the built-in copy protection, this might not be a simple task if you do not have Ubuntu with k9copy and K3b installed.

k9copy is able to break the copy protection and make a DVD image which you can burn to DVD using the burning application K3b (or other DVD burning software). Because ordinary DVDs are dual-layer (8.9 GB), the size of their content exceeds the capacity of cheap, single-layer recordable DVDs (4.4 GB). Luckily, k9copy can also shrink the DVD image to fit on a single-layer DVD. The quality loss is most of the time negligible but if you worry about this, the software gives you an option to only copy parts of the DVD content, e.g., only the movie itself without extra material.

Naturally, if you have those expensive burnable dual-layer DVDs, you can copy the entire DVD without any loss of quality.

To install, do

sudo apt-get install k9copy k3b

or to get all the recommended packages, do

sudo apt-get install k9copy k3b k3b-i18n libk3b3-extracodecs movixmaker-2 normalize-audio libgtk2-gladexml-perl flac 

Windows users:
Download DVDDecrypter, DVDShrink, and Imgburn (see below). DVDDecrypter removes the copy protection and let you copy the DVD to your hard drive. You may then use DVDShrink to shrink the DVD copy to fit on a single-layer DVD. Apparently it is possible to use DVDShrink for the entire operation (both copy and shrink) but in my experience you should use DVDDecrypter for the copying, and DVDShrink for the shrinking. The shrinked DVD folder or image file can be burnt to a burnable DVD using DVDDecrypter or ImgBurn.

Downloads:
DVDDecrypter 3.5.4.0
DVDShrink 3.2
ImgBurn 2.4.2.0

You can find more video-related applications, troubleshooting, and guides at Doom9. They claim that DVDDecrypter may have trouble ripping new DVDs with structural protection. If you experience problems, you may try DVDFab HD Decrypter 5.0.9.0, however, I have no experience with this program. You might also consider switching to Ubuntu or other Linux distributions!

Enjoy ripping!

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Get things done with Gnome Do

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Gnome Do is a quicklauncher for Linux. Although the name implies it is a Gnome application, it apparently works just as well in XFCE4 or KDE. Similar to the search feature of Opera (which remembers visited websites and content), Do allows you to quickly search for items in your desktop environment and perform useful actions on those items. Do is inspired by Quicksilver and GNOME Launch Box.

You launch Do with Super+Space. Then, if you want to send an email to John, simply type “email john.” If you want to listen to Radiohead, type “play radiohead.” Also, Do is able to learn from your previous actions. Therefore, if you for example use the Opera web browser often, typing “o” in Do will launch it.

Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy installation instructions:

1. Add the Gnome Do PPA Repository to your sources list.

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/do-core/ubuntu hardy main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/do-core/ubuntu hardy main

2. In Synaptic Package Manager, search for ‘gnome-do’ or install it from the terminal:

sudo aptitude update && sudo aptitude install gnome-do

More information about this nice, fast, and lightweight application can be found at the Gnome Do wiki.

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The scrollbar in Opera is hard to discriminate against its background. One possible option is to increase the contrast by changing the scrollbar background to a darker colour or theme, for example the same background used for the pagebar background. The following steps show how to do it:

  1. As root, open the zip-file containing your current Opera skin. The default skin can be found at /usr/share/opera/skin/standard_skin.zip, while downloaded skins can be found at /home/username/.opera/skin/*.zip.
  2. Inside the zip-file, open the image /backgrounds/pagebar.png with an image editor such as Gimp.
  3. Rotate the image 90 degrees clockwise and save it as /backgrounds/pagebar2.png inside the zip-file.
  4. Open skin.ini from the zip-file and use Ctrl+F to go to the line containing
    [Scrollbar Vertical Skin]
    

    Underneath this heading, modify exisiting lines as

    Type = BoxStretchTile Center = backgrounds/pagebar2.png
    
  5. You might want to change the horizontal scrollbar background too. Repeat Step 4 but use the original pagebar.png (not rotated). Go to
    [Scrollbar Horizontal Skin]
    

    Underneath this heading, modify exisiting lines as

    Type = BoxStretchTile Center = backgrounds/pagebar.png
    
  6. Save skin.ini inside the zip-file and restart the browser.

The following screenshots shows the scrollbar background before and after the change:

You may also be interested in the following posts:

How to change the background of Speed Dial in Opera 9.50

Add more speed dials and remove search field in Opera 9.50

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Updated 2 September 2008:
To change the background of the Speed Dial tab in Opera 9.50, you need to do the following:

  1. Go to Tools –> Appearance –> Skin to find out which skin you are using. If it says Opera Standard, you are using the default skin, otherwise, you are using a downloaded skin. Note the name of the skin.
  2. As root, open the zip-file containing the Opera skin that you are using. The default skin can be found at /usr/share/opera/skin/standard_skin.zip, while downloaded skins can be found at /home/username/.opera/skin/*.zip. You can use the following command in a terminal:
    sudo gnome-open /usr/share/opera/skin/standard_skin.zip
    
  3. Open the folder /backgrounds in the zip-file by double-clicking it.
  4. Open a file browser (Nautilus) and locate a background image that you want to use, e.g., /usr/share/wallpapers/triplegears.jpg.
  5. Add the background image (triplegears.jpg) to the /backgrounds folder by pressing the Add Files… button and locating the image.
  6. Open skin.ini from the zip-file and scroll down, or use Ctrl+F, to go to the line containing
    [Speed Dial Widget Skin]
    

    Underneath this heading, add 

    Type = BoxTile<br />Tile Center = backgrounds/triplegears.jpg
    
  7. Save skin.ini inside the zip-file, click “yes” to update the  archive, and restart the browser.

Note that your newly installed background image for the Speed Dial tab may be affected by the current color scheme. In my case, the background image became very bluish because the color scheme was set to system colors. To avoid this, go to Appearance (Shift+F12) and make sure Color Scheme is set to No color scheme.

Some screenshots:

1. Determine the skin you are currently using:

2. The zip-file containing the skin:

3. The /backgrounds folder in the zip-file (note Add Files button):

4. Locating a suitable background image using Nautilus:

5. Click Add Files in the /backgrounds folder (see 3. above) and  add the background image:

6. Edit the file skin.ini to use the background image by adding the two lines in blue:

7. Save skin.ini and click “Yes” to update archive:

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By default, Opera 9.50 comes with 9 speed dials when you open a new tab. However, you may have a screen size and resolution that would accomodate more speed dials. For example, to get 4 x 3 speed dials, do the following:

  1. Go to Help → About Opera and note the path of your main Opera directory (look for the opera6.ini file), usually /home/username/.opera/.
  2. Make sure Opera is not running, then open speeddial.ini from this directory and add the following three lines:
    [Size]
    Rows=4
    Columns=3
    
  3. Start Opera and note the change.

You can still open the 9 first speed dials using Ctrl+n, where n=1-9. To add shortcuts to the other speed dials, follow this guide.

To get some extra space, you can turn off the search field the top of the Speed Dial page. Enter opera:config#UserPrefs|SpeedDialSearchType in the address field, hit Enter, and replace the value with 0. Scroll down to the bottom and click Save.  The changes will take effect immediately without restart.

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A common problem with viruses is that they are often extremely difficult to remove. Most of the time, you easily understand that there is something strange about your Windows box (apart from the usual Windows behaviour, that is :D) , so you run a virus scan and indeed, confirm your worry that you have been infected. But what is the worth of your antivirus application if it is unable to remove the virus, not to mention detect it in the first place?! Often, you need to find a dedicated mini-application that removes a particular virus, but if you can’t, you’re screwed.

The following is a recipe that works:
1. Install Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) Persistent on a USB stick (see this guide, and read my reasons why)
2.Install antivirus applications on the Ubuntu system on the USB stick.

  • Avast Antivirus is easy to install (.deb available) and is free but requires email registration for a key (no spam).
  • Clam Antivirus is free and also available from repositories (enable universe). If you prefer a graphical user interface (GUI), also install clamtk using Synaptic.
  • AVG Anti-Virus Free for Linux/Freebsd 7.5.50 is not their latest release but might do the job.
  • Trend Micro HouseCall is a free online scanning service. Linux distributions must support libc6.

3. Make sure the antivirus applications and virus definitions are all updated.
4. Boot up Ubuntu on the infected Windows computer using your USB stick. You may have to enter the BIOS setup to change the boot order to boot from USB before booting from the (Windows) hard drive.
5. Launch an antivirus application in Ubuntu and tell it to scan the directory /media, where the windows partitions shall have been automounted as /media/disk, /media/disk-1, etc. at boot time.

(Note: I have only tried Avast and Clam. I noted that Clam seemed to be unresponsive upon starting a scan, but after 30 seconds or so started scanning.)

When you have successfully cleaned your mom’s/dad’s/friend’s computer, lend them your USB stick (with all the usual snacks like Compiz Fusion/the 3D cube, OpenOffice, Opera 9.5 with email set up, Amarok, VLC player etc.) and tell them that anything they can accomplish in Windows (well, perhaps with the exception of premium video editing suites such as Adobe Premiere Pro) they can do with free software in a virusfree Linux environment!

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There are several reasons you should install Ubuntu on a USB flash drive. First of all, a USB memory stick is easier to bring around than a Live CD if you need to install Ubuntu on a computer. But more importantly, by installing the persistent version, not only can you use your USB as a Live CD, but in addition, you can save any changes to the system to disk! In effect, this means that you have your own portable system that you can bring anywhere. Forget the worry of bringing your valuable laptop on vacation. Instead, once you have booted your system onto somebody else’s computer, you can install software, perform system upgrades, and do your work on your own customized system with your own software installed. Everything you do is saved onto your USB stick. And if you do need to access or save something on the underlying system, the computer hard drives will be automounted at startup.

Naturally, your system will be limited by the disk size of your USB. Most installations use about 700 MB (the size of a Live CD) for the Live portion of the system, leaving the rest of the disk as free space. With a dirt-cheap 4 or 8 GB USB stick, you have plenty of space to install software and files.

Running a system from a USB can also be convenient if you need dedicated servers to perform exactly what you want. Rather than going through a procedure of installing necessary software and making sure that everything works on the existing system, which likely is a Windows computer loaded with crap, you simply plug in your pre-prepared USB stick and boot from it. It is cheap and quick to buy 10 USB sticks, prepare the system and software on one of them, and then replicate the entire system onto the 9 others.

Another great usage is for removal of viruses on a Windows system. Viruses are often hard to get rid of, as they might get loaded during boot-up and refuse to be deleted by the Windows antivirus application. Booting Ubuntu from the USB and running a virus scanner such as Avast or Clam (Clam is also available from repositories) should enable you to remove the viruses. See my guide for further instructions.

So how do you make such a USB stick? I just followed this guide, which was a piece of cake. If you want the USB stick to also work as a normal flash drive when connected to a computer, you might want to add a third partition in addition to the two needed for the Ubuntu Persistent system. Format it as NTFS so it is readable on both Windows and Linux systems. You might need to have this partition as the first partition for Windows to discover it. I have not tried this myself, but believe it should work.

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Everyone knows it is a good idea to backup your data. However, the good ol’ copy’n’paste routine is time consuming, inefficient, and prone to errors. By using rsync, you can achieve efficient synchronisation of files as only the change in data will be transferred.

For example, you might want to synchronise your home directory, /home/username/, to your external hard drive, /media/externalhdd/homebackup/. A oneliner is all that is needed:

rsync -ra --progress --stats --log-file=rsynclog /home/username/ /media/externalhdd/homebackup

The options used are:

  • -r recursive (includes subfolders)
  • -a archive (preserves, ownership, timestamps, etc.)
  • –progress (shows progress of files being synchronised)
  • –stats (print some statistics after synchronisation)
  • –log-file=rsynclog (save useful information in file rsynclog in current directory)

For other options, do

rsync --help

You can also use rsync for synchronisation to remote servers. If so, you may do

rsync -ra --progress --size-only /home/username/ server.example.com:/home/username/homebackup/

Note that such a connection to a remote server is insecure! You should be using SSH. Google it to find out how. One possible starting point is here.

Finally, you may want to use a script that runs at scheduled times to automate your backup process. An example script can be downloaded here (see below). Modify the script by removing the user input and use cron to run it at regular times, e.g., every night.

Download rsyncbackup.sh

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After having used VirtualBox for a while, the actual size of your virtual disk image (VDI) may have grown to become very close to the virtual size. That is, even if your guest machine system reports that it only uses a small amount of disk space, its VDI image filesize is considerably larger. In general, the following three steps will compact your VDI file:

  1. Defragment hard drive (in guest system)
  2. Write zeros to hard drive blocks of free space (in guest system)
  3. Compact the VDI virtual disk image (in host system)

After this process, your VDI file size should be approximately equal to what the guest system reports being in use.

Consider the following example: I run Ubuntu 8.04 as the host system and have Windows XP installed as a guest machine. The corresponding VDI file, winxp.vdi, has a virtual size of 20 GB and an actual size of ~18 GB. However, logging in to the virtual Windows XP system, it tells me that only 3 GB of disk space is in use, while 17 GB is free. How can I shrink, or compact, the VDI file to only use about 3 GB as needed?

  1. Windows XP (guest): Run Start -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Defragmenter
  2. Windows XP (guest): Download and run nullfile-1.02.exe, or run
    sdelete -c
    
  3. Ubuntu 8.04 (host): Run
    VBoxManage modifyvdi winxp.vdi compact
    

Afterwards, the actual size of winxp.vdi is only ~3GB, that is, about 15 GB of free space has become available to Ubuntu.

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