virtual decluttering

This week I decluttered my desk of the computer that was running Windows. It had had a good innings, as it has been useful for over ten years. I had started to use it less and less as we now run the couple applications that need the Windows operating system in VirtualBox on H’s Linux computer. Also, the battery was a little tired so it took a few presses of the on switch to get it up and running.

There was no sadness moving on this beige box, unlike decommissioning my SPARCstation 2. I shed tears over that. So much so, that I have not been able to finish this blog post until now.

H went to a lot of trouble to choose a new box  that had a super quiet power supply and fan. And I must admit, there was no comparison between my new Linux computer and the SPARCstation. The SPARCstation sounded like a plane taking off in comparison. But I do miss my WYSIWYG FrameMaker application. So far, the combination of the SPARCstation, SPARCprinter and FrameMaker is the only setup that has been truly WYSIWYG.

The SPARCstation and peripherals joined the other stuff in the bin on Resource Recovery Day April 2008.

Ending on a positive note, decommissioning the Windows computer means that I have successfully decluttered another item for the The De-clutter ’52 Things in 52 weeks’ Challenge organised by The Organised Housewife.


electronic design challenge

If you have an electronic design in the pipeline that is environmentally friendly, you may wish to consider entering Farnell‘s live edge competition (Electronic Design for the Global Environment). First prize is $50,000 cash plus in-kind support for expert design, legal, and marketing consultancy.

Judging criteria include but not limited to; effect on the environment, efficiency of energy use, compliance with the RoHS Directive, and end of life considerations as well as the usual good design decisions.

The competition is international, but all entries must be in English. Registration of interest is due by 31October 2007 with the closing date for submitting designs being 30 November 2007.

Note: I am in no way connected with the competition or its sponsors. I just read the web address ( from a delivery docket that came with some parts today from Farnell. The competition opened 15 May 2007.

Etch from scratch – join the audio group and get sound

Debian just works. Sometimes though, the emphasis on ‘just’ is somewhat diminished as I expect this very comprehensive and ‘you can do anything’ operating system to meet my personal expectations. I know now that just as I cannot mind-read (not yet anyway), my computer does not know what it is required to do without me telling or informing it.

Computer sound or audio is not required, if not unwelcome in a workplace. This is the only reason I can think of why when I installed the Xfce version of Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 (Etch) , that sound is not automatically configured.

If you do not have sound on your computer and you want it, then the first things to check are:

  • speakers or headphones are connected and turned on
  • volume is turned up
  • your username belongs to the audio groupCheck by opening a terminal and type:
    groupsThis will list the groups that you belong to.
  • If ‘audio’ is not listed, then add yourself to this group. To do this, again in a terminal, become superuser to enter:
    addgroup username audio

If you still do not hear audio, I would be checking that my sound card is supported, and if there are any specific requirements for the player or game that I wish to play.

Note: To list all the available groups, in a terminal enter:
cat /etc/group

twisting wires together

//engtech has listed their favourite quotes from “Programmers at Work: Interviews with 19 Programmers Who Shaped the Computer Industry” edited by Susan Lammers (paperback available from Amazon).

This quote caught my eye:

“Programming is the ultimate field ofr someone who likes to tinker. Tinkering requires tools. Electrical engineers have various components they can put together to build something. But they’re constrained by the availability of physical equipment. With a computer, if you can think about it, you can do it. You can design your own tools or create the parts as you go along. If you don’t like something, you can just change it or rewrite it. It’s a wide-open tool box, given the resource, the computer. The only limiting factors are the amount of time it takes the computer to do the task and the amount of time it takes you to write the program.” Ray Ozzie, P188

I think electronics engineers have the best of both worlds. They can tinker on both hardware and software by developing hardware that a computer can talk to and listen for through standard protocols, for example, USB. They are not limited by the hardware environment of their computer, and can build on any hardware that they design.

My favourite quote is from my partner:

“I used to just twist wires together ..
now the wires are so small I use software”

Etch from scratch – installing Adobe Acrobat Reader

PDF icon

Update (22 November 2007) Thanks to readers who leave comments (see below), I now know that there is a .deb available from Adobe. But if you are using Debian, then you may find more useful (thanks H), as you can place an appropriate mirror site in your /etc/apt/sources.list for use by apt-get. Note: Remember to run apt-get update if you change your sources.list file.

On Debian GNU/Linux (Sarge) I can use Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0.10 or Xpdf, and most often I use Acrobat Reader. Xpdf was great for viewing simple PDF documents, but I tended to use Acrobat Reader if I was viewing and printing longer or more complex PDF documents.

I was beginning to experience difficulty displaying some PDF documents (black boxes for images and ill-formed fonts) with both PDF viewers. Also, not being able to print more than one copy of a PDF at a time from Acrobat Reader was becoming cumbersome.

Installing Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0.9 on my new Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 (Etch) system was straight forward. But it has not been included in the Debian package management system, so it is another piece of software that I need to keep track of separately. I do this in a log book of the paper variety and in a file called admin-log located in the root home directory.

Since researching how to download and install Adobe Acrobat Reader, I have read LWN’s article about a ‘phone home’ feature in Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0 that logs when you view tagged PDF documents with a company over the internet. This article is over two years old, and whether this is still an issue or feature in Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0.9, I’m not sure. H tried to persuade me to use Evince, which was tempting as I can just use apt-get, and I may still do this if I can find evidence that Adobe Acrobat Reader still includes the ‘phone home’ feature.

This is my experience of installing Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0.9.

  1. As root in a terminal, ran apt-cache search acroread
  2. This is because Adobe Acrobat Reader on my Debian Sarge system was called ‘acroread’. I did not find ‘acroread’, so tried other key words such as ‘PDF’ and ‘reader’ without success.

  3. Displayed the /etc/apt/sources.list file to check that an ‘etch contrib non-free’ repository had been included in my sources list. And I do have such a repository listed.
  4. Adobe Acrobat Reader did not appear to be in any Debian repositories that I had listed in my sources list, so I decided to download Acrobat Reader from Adobe. For Linux, they offered Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0.9 as a tar.gz and .rpm. I downloaded AdobeReader_enu-7.0.9-1.i386.tar.gz.
  5. I use the Desktop as a scratch or temporary area, so I moved the downloaded file to this directory and unpacked using:
  6. tar xvzf AdobeReader_enu-7.0.9-1.i386.tar.gz

    AdobeReader folder on the desktop is displayed containing the following files:

  7. I displayed ReadMe.htm in my browser and read that the INSTALL script would install Acrobat Reader in a /usr/local/Adobe/Acrobat7.0 directory.
  8. I navigated to the AdobeReader directory, and ran:
  9. The following is what was displayed in my terminal (including my responses in bold) as I ran the installation script:

    This installation requires 111 MB of free disk space.

    Enter installation directory for Adobe Reader 7.0.9 [/usr/local/Adobe/Acrobat7.0] <- Pressed Enter key to accept the default directory

    Directory “/usr/local/Adobe/Acrobat7.0” does not exist.
    Do you want to create it now? [y] y

    Installing platform independent files … Done

    Installing platform dependent files … Done

    Do you want to install the browser plugin ? [y/n] y

    This will install the browser plugin for acroread.

    Do you want to perform automatic installation ? [y/n] y

    Trying to install plugin for browser – firefox
    Installing plugin in /usr/lib/iceweasel/iceweasel
    Installation successful. /usr/lib/iceweasel/plugins/

    Trying to install plugin for browser – mozilla
    Installing plugin in /usr/lib/iceweasel/iceweasel
    The plugin seems to be already installed. Are you sure you want to overwrite ? [y/n] n
    Installation cancelled.

    Finished with automatic install.
    Do you want to perform manual installation ? [y/n] n

    If you are facing any problem in getting the installation to work for your browser, please copy the following file to the plugin folder of the browser:

    In case of difficulties please refer to the documentation provided along with the browser for addition of new plugins.
    Please login again for changes to MIME types and icons to take effect.

  10. I navigated to where the binary was installed, i.e. /usr/local/Adobe/Acrobat7.0/bin and checked that I could start Adobe Acrobat Reader with:
  11. I was able to successfully start Acrobat Reader.

  12. I navigated to /usr/local/bin (the directory where I usually install applications outside of the Debian package manager), and created a symbolic link to the Adobe Acrobat Reader binary:
  13. ln -s /usr/local/Adobe/Acrobat7.0/bin/acroread acroread

    This means that any user on my computer can run Adobe Acrobat Reader without having to add the Adobe specific path to their environment variables.

Later, if I wish to uninstall Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0.9, all that I have to do is remove the directory and files in /usr/local/Adobe/Acrobat7.0/, and the symbolic link that I have created.

For the moment, I can view PDFs, which I need to do to be able to get on with my current assignment, but I’ll research other PDF viewers when I’m more at leisure. So if any of the PDFs that I’m viewing are suitably tagged, yes, the PDF publishers will know that I am reading up on the health and medical areas of nanotechnology.

Etch from scratch – installing a printer

Although, I can create a postscript file for printing later, I thought it would be better if I introduced the office printer to my new Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 (Etch) box. The ‘touch it once’ way of getting the tedious paperwork out the way.

Before I got onto installing a printer though, I tweaked:

  • the /etc/apt/sources.list to remove “deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 r0 _Etch_ – Official i386 xfce-CD Binary-1 20070407-12:12]/ etch contrib main”, and
  • configured both Xfce Panel 1 and Xfce Panel 2 to autohide using the Panel Manager. To figure out which panel is which, look for the panel location on the screen. Mmm.

Then, H respectfully requested that I install ssh so that he could have access to my computer 🙂 So I ran apt-get install ssh.

My screen is still going grainy and I am unable to select some options when back at the log in screen. It may be that the driver that has been selected is not appropriate. For now, I just swap to another terminal, become root and powerdown.

I’m getting used to the fonts in some applications, but they are still yuck overall. I needed to get on with work and this included being able to print from the browser for online banking, so further tweaks have to wait.

  1. Located the Foomatic printer configuration tool on the Xfce Apps > Tools menu, and followed my nose knowing that I have a networked HP Color Laserjet 4500 to install.
  2. Unfortunately, the following message is displayed:

    ‘Unable to retrieve PPD file from PPD/HP/color_laser/HP_Color_Laserjet_4500.ppd’

    Thought, ok, I believe you. So:

  3. apt-get install, and
  4. apt-get install hp-ppd
  5. H also remembered that additional ppds were required on the Computer Angels system.

    Appeared to work, in that I successfully added a printer. However, no test page appeared when requested.

  6. I followed up H’s suggestion of installing CUPS with:apt-get install gnome-cups-manager
  7. I was unable to print a test page from GNOME CUPS Manager, so I used my browser to display the CUPS web interface at https://localhost:631/ and successfully printed a test page from there.

I also printed a page displayed in my browser and started Writer and typed in a few words to check that I could print from there. And I can 🙂 So ok for uni assignments next week.