Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fuduntu 14.10: An interview with Andrew Wyatt 'Fewt'

As I recently mentioned, I will soon post a review on Fuduntu 14.10. I can already share with you that I am loving this release and that the Fuduntu Team's hard work is showing, but I will leave details for the review itself.

It was around 6 months ago that I got in touch with Andrew Wyatt (a.k.a. Fewt, lead developer for Fuduntu) to REVIEW release 14.7 of his distro FUDUNTU. Fewt kindly answered a number of questions which provided context to why Fuduntu was shaping up the way it was. I think that interview is still relevant, specially because it makes the evolution to 14.10 even more obvious when compared to current Fuduntu. In fact, Andrew was kind enough to answer some more questions about 14.10, so it's interesting to compare what his take was back then and where he stands today.

THE INTERVIEW

I now noticed how Jupiter is making a difference in my battery consumption and also how it automatically applies different power schemas depending on whether the PC is running on batteries or AC. Can you quickly explain what the latest changes in Jupiter are about?

The only recent changes to Jupiter revolve around enabling power savings in hardware devices like your SATA or Audio. I revised Jupiter for kernel 2.6.38 as well where I started managing things like NMI Watchdog.

Are there plans to bring an administration console to Jupiter, so profiles can be tweaked in detail by users?

No, the idea behind Jupiter is to set it and forget it. Since Jupiter uses CPUFreq, the frequency change would be made there. For the dynamic kernel tuning feature, that lives in /usr/lib/Jupiter. Just apply the kernel tuning there and it'll manage it automatically.

There is no default Torrent app (personally, I wish there was, I use em so much!), is it because of a CD size limitation?

It's based on my assumption that not everyone uses torrents. There hasn't really been a demand for it, so we left it out for space purposes, yes.

I see you took a step forward embracing cloud services, specially from Google, which I personally think is the way to go. What do you think are the benefits of offering these services through a desktop application wrapper instead of a browser tab?

The only real benefit is to inform new users that they have the ability to use this service. Kind of like a bookmark. That way they don't feel as though we have given them a desktop without the tools needed to perform their needed functions.

AWN over Docky. Any particular reason?

Yes. We tested AWN and Docky heavily, and found that AWN was lighter on resources which improved battery life and reduced memory consumption.

After introducing Gmail and GDocs, why a heavy audio player like Banshee? I think perhaps a wrapper around a service like GrooveShark would have also worked?

I don't think Banshee is terribly heavy. In addition, I like how they have integrated the music store, and feel we should support that.

VLC is the default video player, but I noticed that several video formats don't default to it, so sometimes I was getting Banshee trying to run them. I think it would be great to have VLC as the default player for all. Any plans to make that happen?

It's on my list of future improvements. If you run the 64bit version of Fuduntu it doesn't seem to have this issue. I'll fix it soon.

I have noticed an improvement in font rendering since the last time I tried Fuduntu. What has happened behind the scenes for such improvement?

I integrated Infinality's font rendering patches. They aim to improve fonts without violating patents. They look great, don't they?

You do mention many other improvements in many areas which, among other things, improve performance. Can you provide a bit more background here?

Certainly. We utilize cgroups to manage terminal processes. We reduce swappiness so the kernel doesn't write memory out to disk as often. We also move /tmp and /var/log to memory which reduces latency when opening and using applications in addition to improving battery life.

There are more changes too but those are some of the most important changes.

TO BE CONTINUED...

As I said, Fuduntu 14.10 is a great release. Expect more on it in my soon to come review...

BIG THANKS TO ANDREW FOR HIS TIME AND ANSWERS!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Linux is speed and power

Man, what a busy time lately!!... I have struggled big time to finish any of my ongoing articles, but fear not, this blog is very much alive and kicking. Stay tunned for upcoming articles, for there are some interesting things on the way, including reviews for Fedora 15, Fuduntu 14.10, Zorin 5 OS and (maybe) an article on why I decided not to review Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity.

While I finish those reviews, I thought I'd share an interesting International Business Times ARTICLE which lists the 10 most powerful computers on Earth today. The piece that I find particularly interesting is that ALL TEN OF THEM RUN LINUX! (Go Tux!)

Here's the list:

1. K Computer, Japan

Built by Fujitsu, the Japanese supercomputer at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AICS) in Kobe, is capable of performing more than 8 quadrillion calculations per second (petaflop/s). “The K Computer is also more powerful than the next five systems on the list combined and also one of the most energy-efficient systems on the list.”

2. Tianhe-1A, China

The Chinese supercomputer at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin, China, performs at 2.6 petaflop/s.

3. Jaguar, United States

The Jaguar, a Cray supercomputer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is ranked No. 3 with 1.75 petaflop/s.

4. Nebulae, China

The Nebulae supercomputer at China’s National Supercomputing Center in Shenzen is ranked fouth with 1.27 petaflop/s performance.

5. Tsubame 2.0, Japan

Tsubame 2.0 at the Tokyo Institute of Technology is fifth most fast supercomputer in the world with 1.19 petaflop/s performance.

6. Cielo, United States

The Cielo supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico performs at 1.11 petaflop/s.

7. Pleiades, United States

Pleiades, located at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, allows over 1,000 active users around the country advance knowledge about the Earth, solar system and the universe. Pleiades helps meet computing needs of NASA's aeronautics projects and other space operations. It has a performance at 1.09 petaflop/s.

Pleiades Westmere-based racks: The addition of the Westmere and Nehalem nodes increased the computing capacity available on Pleiades by 170%.

8. Hopper, United States

The Hopper supercomputer, located at DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) in California, is ranked eighth with 1.054 petaflop/s performances.

9. Tera 100, France

Tera 100 at the CEA (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives) in France performs at 1.05 petaflop/s.

10. Roadrunner, United States

Roadrunner at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico performs at 1.04 petaflop/s.


So there you have it, our tux penguin may look harmless, but it can turn your PC into a mean muscle machine if you ask it to!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Introducing BackTrack 5 'Revolution'

Released less than a month ago, BACKTRACK 5 is an up to date version of this impressive specialist distro. Aimed at security experts (but just as good is you an enthusiast getting into it), Revolution lives up to its name and introduces a few cool new features, as described in the official release announcement:

"Based on Ubuntu Lucid LTS. Kernel 2.6.38, patched with all relevant wireless injection patches. Fully open source and GPL compliant. Head down to our downloads page to get your copy now!"

A few more things worth noting:

- New Look&Feel
- KDE 4.6
- GNOME 2.32
- Firefox 4.0.1
- WiCD as default network manager
- KeepNote 0.7.1
- ZenMap


INSTALLATION & FIRST STEPS

As I mentioned, BackTrack 5 is very much a specialist distribution, probably not the kind of distro you would use on your main desktop (that may apply if you are professionally dedicated to security, though). As a result, I think the most convenient way to experience this Revolution is to either run it Live or install it on a USB, which is exactly what I did. In case you want to do the same, you will find the necessary instructions in the BackTrack website (it's all very easy thanks to UnetBootin).

Once installed, the specialist vibe is made evident from the first minute, as Revolution boots to a command line by default. This is probably the best option for those experienced with the tons of tools included in the default image, but if you are new to BackTrack and its applications, it's probably best to start X Windows, as follows.

1.- Login as root using the provided default password (Change it to your own right after your first login!!).
2.- type startx to get to the GUI.
3.- Feeling right at home by now? ;-)

DESKTOP & APPLICATIONS

The default BackTrack 5 desktop was an interesting déjà vu experience for me. Even with the distro's own Look&Feel, the reminiscence to Old Ubuntu is more than evident. I wasn't uncomfortable with that, though, just switched to Faenza icons (so used to them by now...) and adjusted fonts to my liking.


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Other than that, I have to say I loved the default set of wallpapers (saved under /usr/share/wallpapers/backtrack/, in case you want to get to see them all) and icons. The overall vibe is serious and professional.


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The set of applications available for penetration testing activities is overwhelming. I was both smiling in awe and feeling a bit intimidated, to be honest.


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Categories include Information gathering, Exploitation tools or Forensics, to name about a few.


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Yup, you are right, these tools could potentially be used for some wicked ends on the wrong hands, but the distro is aimed at security experts and enthusiasts who need them to audit their systems. Use these tools responsibly!


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Some other applications include Firefox 4.0.1. One thing I missed myself when putting together this article, though, was the GNOME application to take screenshots. I found that odd, because I could see use for screenshots in the context of a distro of this kind.


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KeepNote is an interesting little application that does exactly what its name says, certainly handy in a distribution such as BackTrack.


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GOOD TO KEEP AROUND

BackTrack 5 is a good specialized distribution, a great tool worth keeping around. I personally find it very interesting and want to keep using it to learn more about the whole security side of things, which I find fascinating, but I believe even experts will get a kick out of this latest BackTrack release.

Monday, June 6, 2011

PiConvert updated!

Not long ago I POSTED about the wonderful imagemagick command, which provides image manipulation capabilities through a command line interface. As I described back then, when I write reviews, I usually take lots of screenshots to provide visual context, all of which are generated as PNG images by default. In the past, I used to manually convert all of those images into JPG format to reduce their size, but I also had to manually create thumbnails for all of them... Quite tedious, if you ask me.

PiConvert.sh

Using the extremely flexible and powerful imagemagick command, I created a script to automate some of the most common image manipulation activities I do. Originally, PiConvert.sh only converted PNG files into JPG, creating the corresponding thumbnails in the process. Since I completed the first version, though, I kept adding options based on my needs and now this simple script does a number of interesting things.

All available options are depicted in the screenshot below, which incidentally is the menu that shows up when the script runs.



BLACK AND WHITE CONVERSION

An interesting piece of functionality that I often use when an artistic vein kicks in, converting color pictures to black and white is also one of the most popular image conversions available. Unfortunately, imagemagick conversion is not the smoothest I have seen, but I wanted to make it available anyways.



A simple example of how a sample color image is turned to black and white using PiConvert.sh.



SEPIA CONVERSION

Converting color images to Sepia tones is another one of my favorites. In this case, imagemagick manages it better, and with the right setting, results look great.



For this example, I used the latest Fedora 15 default wallpaper, whose intense blue color makes the conversion to sepia stand out.




IPHONE & BLACKBERRY

When I find cool wallpapers for my PCs, it doesn't take long before they end up in either my iPod4 or BlackBerry 9700. I thought PiConvert.sh could help me save some time there, so I added two new options to cover my needs there.

NOTE: The iPhone default screen resolution is a bit difficult to achieve with landscape wallpapers, so while I find a good way to do it, I am simply squeezing pictures to fit in. Not perfect, I know...

NOTE 2: I know, I know, PiConvert.sh code is anything but fancy, but I can hardly find any time to keep adding options. At some point I hope I will find time to optimize my code and remove any redundancies. For now, I just concentrate on getting it to do what it was designed to do, it is a very simple script after all...

DOWNLOAD PiConvert.sh

If you like PiConvert.sh and would like to use it, you can download it from HERE

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Hydrogen: Translating in an Open Source Project

HYDROGEN is an open source advanced drum machine application. I mostly use it to record drums in my songs, but it can do way more than that. The aim of this article is not necessarily to go on about Hydrogen as an application, though, but I definitely encourage all musically inclined to check it out... With the right drum samples it rocks hard!

GETTING INVOLVED

Today I want to talk about getting actively involved in an open source project, as I recently did for Hydrogen, translating the application tutorial to Spanish. It was my first time helping with translation in a project of this nature, and I must admit part of the process was a bit intimidating at first. I learned some new tools I had never heard about before, new ways of working and interacting with other people and shared conversations with project leaders and other enthusiasts, all passionate experts in what they do.

Ever since I first started using Linux, I have always felt thankful for all the effort, help and support volunteers all around the globe offered expecting nothing in exchange. It didn't take long before I wanted to give something back myself, but I must admit I always felt somehow intimidated, like I needed to be a respected guru before I could be in that position. As a result, I donated to several projects (most notably Ardour), bought merchandising (mostly Ubuntu wearables) and tried to offer my limited experience helping others in forums when I felt confident enough to do so. In fact, I part of the reason why I started this blog was to try to help Linux and the wonderful open source world. After all, I wasn't a guru, but I could share my experiences and hopefully get the message across.

The truth is, once you start, there is no end to it. Through the last few years, I have increased the number of things I do, including active participation in a few open source projects. As I was working on the last one, the translation activities for Hydrogen, I thought I could share a bit of my experience. Who knows, maybe others feel the same way I did and think they have nothing to offer due to their limited experience or skills... Maybe a few of those decide to participate in a project after reading someone else's experience... Who knows, but I think I would have probably helped earlier on if I had a better understanding of what the experience was about.

WELCOME... LET'S GET TO WORK!

Hard to believe at times, but these projects are usually comprised by a fairly small number of people, something particularly surprising when compared with the amount of things they achieve. I have used Hydrogen for my recordings for quite some time, browsed the project website and posted in its forums, so I thought it was kind of a big thing. I somehow had the feeling that a big group of people was behind the project, but once I got into it, I found that the core of the project was down to no more than five people!

Another interesting thing is how these little groups of people literally find order in chaos. It's important to understand that all people involved are volunteers, so the idea of how things are managed inside corporations, where a project plan, some risk assessment and deadlines are usually all it takes to start telling people what to do, does not apply here. In this case, a mailing list is all there is to get everyone in touch. Project leads explain the tasks that need attention and then they are assigned when people volunteer. In that sense, it was amazing how quickly everyone was "introduced" (if such thing makes sense over email) to each other and started to work.

Aside from volunteering, project leaders also wanted to get a feel of each member's previous experience. This is good practice, because they don't want to have one person take on too much or do something they are not prepared to do. I had never done any translation work, so I was lost when they started talking about GTranslator and other tools they were using. To be honest, at that point I thought they could just say "You know what? Thanks for your offer, but we need someone with experience here" (The corporate world spirit kicking in, I suppose). Luckily, all I got was encouraging feedback and the information I needed to get going. Once I started to get to grips with it, if I had any question, I would get an answer in a matter of hours, most often minutes. Before I knew it, I was adding my two cents and having fun with it!

GTRANSLATOR

The bulk of my translation work I did was done on GTranslator Editor, which (acknowledging my extremely limited translation background) felt like a solid and well designed application.


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The first thing all translators were asked to do was to review the existing Wiki, which included information about the software we had to install for translation purposes, the location and method to download the latest code and documentation, etc.


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I used GTranslator with the project's tutorial.pot file. The application allowed me to translate each "milestone" and then export the final result to tutorial_es.po, the specific translation file for Spanish. That file could then be easily converted into HTML, which was the actual end goal.

GTranslator offers an intuitive interface, displaying the original text to be translated and a text field at the bottom left corner of the screen. That text field is where translators are meant to type in their own language. The upper left menu shows all paragraphs which should be translated, displaying progress bars for each one of them, as the screenshot above shows. This particular feature proved critical, as it made it very easy to keep track of my progress whenever I (sometimes days apart) sat down to continue translating.



GO FOR IT!

Getting involved in one of the tons of projects ongoing in the open source community is fun and rewarding. Even if you believe your skills and experience are limited, let me assure you there will surely be something you can help with. These projects are almost always short in resources, so go for it, offer your help. At a bare minimum, you will get to know interesting people and learn a lot in the process!