Daily Archives: September 10, 2007

Cascading over the cataracts with CSS

I wanted to make more effective use of the white-space in my blog to present more text on each page, so I took the plunge today and paid the WordPress folks to give me the right to edit my CSS pages.

I will of course continue to use Chris Person’s wonderful Cutline theme. I am committed to using it, both because of its fine design and that endearing picture of Ferrara Cafe — seeing it always reminds me of my cutie-pie,as I wrote some time back in On Ferrara Cafe.

Here’s what I’ve done so far, copied over from a rough log I’ve been keeping:

Added Arial at start of fonts list and cut the percentage from 62.5 to 42.5.

That’s too small, moved to 52.5 percent. This is in the “body” tag.

Changed “container” from 770px to 900px. This gives more room for text.

Changed “content-box” from 770px to 900px. Effect unclear.

Changed “content” from 500px to 700px. This caused an overflow and the right column wound up below. Not acceptable.

Trying “content” of 600px. That helped, the right column is now back on the right, but the bars go too far to the right. Let’s make the right column smaller.

Change sidebar width from 230px to 180px.

Change masthead width from 770px to 900px.

Change “ul.sidebar_list li.widget {
width:230px;” to 180px. No effect I can see.

64 Beans and Counting

I’m a programmer at heart and so have special affection for the powers of two: 2, 4, 8 , 16, 32, 64 , …

Especially 64 today, as I just noticed I now have 64 Ubuntu beans.

Don’t forget that Ubuntu is a hill of beans that is worth much more than a hill of beans and it gets more valuable with every new bean.

I also noted that with my recent posts on building hardware, there are now 15 posts in my Ubuntu section, Ubuntu, so 16 is just one new post away. Indeed, when I publish this I’ll be able to update that list to have 16 members.

I have modified my signature in Ubuntu Forums to read as follows:

thanks, dave
Blog Ubuntu posts
License Dave Shields (LDS): “I wrote this.You can do with it what you wish.All I ask is that you try to have fun with it and give credit where credit is due.”

Much Pain, No Gain.

(Update, January 31,2008: Kevin Everett is now able to walk and is regaining the use of his hands. See Everett Again Standing Tall.)

I go to the gym regularly. I mostly do aerobics and also lift weights. From time to time I hear someone say, “No pain, no gain.”

I don’t pay attention to them. Whenever I feel any pain while working out, I stop what I’m doing. If I don’t immediately feel the pain go away, or if I find the day after a workout that I don’t feel up to snuff, then I stop going to the gym for a few days to give my body a chance to recover.

It is now early September. The NFL football season is starting up just as the baseball season is nearing the start of the playoffs.

Baseball players feel pain, mostly by the wear and tear on their bodies of playing so many games in a season. But it’s rare when an injury to one player is caused by another.

That’s not the case in the NFL. It’s part of the game. The goal of every defensive lineman is to take down the opposing quarterback, as the quarterback is the key offensive player.

I found abundant evidence of this in today’s Sports Section.

Points, Pain and Problems reports that

The Giants were jolted by injuries — the most worrisome being quarterback Eli Manning’s bruised shoulder — and undone by a soft defense. Again, they could not win in the end.

The Giants, for all their off-season changes in attitude and personnel, felt a familiar twinge of regret as they packed their belongings. They were in position to win, more than desultory enough to lose, and shaken by injuries to players considered vital to their season’s hopes. .

In the first half alone, the Giants were dealt game-ending knee injuries to defensive end Osi Umenyiora (unspecified) and running back Brandon Jacobs (sprained medial collateral ligament); the severity of each will be known on Monday.

Tynes, in adding to the parade of unusual plays, had the calf of his kicking leg cramp severely at impact on a fourth-quarter kickoff. His next kickoff bounced meekly down the middle of the field, and Tynes said later that he hoped treatment on Monday would loosen the knot.

I happened to see part of the game on TV, including the part that showed a physician examining Manning’s shoulder on the sidelines. It’s a sad sign that teams need to have a doctor on the sidelines at a game.

Too bad for NY’s Giants. How about the Jets?

Pennington Is Hurt in a Punishing Loss:

The line that ought to fill Jets fans with foreboding is not the one anchored by the second-year center Nick Mangold. It was so shaky Sunday in a 38-14 defeat to the New England Patriots that quarterback Chad Pennington looked like a sitting duck on the opening day of hunting season.

Pennington injured his right leg in the third quarter, and afterward was asked about his availability for the Jets’ game next week at Baltimore.

“I have no idea,” he said in what was easily the worst line of the day for the Jets. “I am sure I will see the doctors frequently this week, and we’ll see what happens.”

In the third quarter, Pennington’s right leg buckled while he was being sacked. With much effort and apparent anguish, he hopped on his left foot to the sideline at Giants Stadium, only to return on the next possession.

It was a scene that took people back to a home game two Septembers ago, when Pennington injured his throwing shoulder but returned to play out the defeat. After that, Pennington did not take another snap that season because of a torn rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder. But in his postgame news conference then, he did his best John Wayne impression, saying that doctors would have to cut off his shoulder for him not to play the next week, at Baltimore.

So here we are. One game into the season, and both New York quarterbacks injured.

But it gets even worse — Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills was injured yesterday and there is concern he may never walk again:

Bills’ Tight End Has Surgery After Spinal Injury:

Buffalo Bills reserve tight end Kevin Everett had surgery Sunday after injuring his spine on a kickoff against the Denver Broncos, and there is concern about whether he will be able to walk again.

”He’s had some sparse movement,” Everett’s agent Brian Overstreet told The Associated Press in a phone interview late Sunday.

”The next couple of days is going to be critical,” said Overstreet, responding to a question about paralysis. ”Our concern is for him to come out of this healthy and, hopefully, be able to walk again.”

Overstreet said Everett came out of a ”lengthy surgery” Sunday evening and the plan was for his mother, Patricia Dugas, to arrive from Texas on Monday.

Everett fell to the ground and never moved after a helmet-to-helmet hit when he tackled Denver’s Domenik Hixon during a kickoff to open the second half. Everett was placed on a backboard with his head and body immobilized, and carefully loaded into an ambulance at the Broncos 30.

The game was delayed for about 15 minutes, and the Bills gathered at the sideline while doctors attended to the player.

At 9:45 p.m., as he was leaving Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital, Bills’ tight end Ryan Neufeld told Buffalo’s WIVB-TV the surgery ”went well as far as we can tell and he’s recovering right now.”

Bills general manager Marv Levy said doctors informed the team that it’s too early to determine the severity of the injury and they will know more after monitoring the player overnight.

”Certainly, we feel the injury is serious, but I don’t want to speculate, and that’s what the doctors told us,” Levy told The Associated Press. ”They told us to wait to hear from them before making any speculative announcement.”

Coach Dick Jauron said immediately following the game that the player sustained a cervical spine injury, but wouldn’t discuss the severity of the injury.

Everett’s injury cast a pall over the Bills following a season-opening 15-14 loss, with several players expressing concern about their teammate.

”It was real hard,” cornerback Terrence McGee said. ”I watched the whole thing and he never moved. … It’s real sad to see him go off on a stretcher, but we hope he’s OK.”

Buffalo’s third-round draft pick in 2005, Everett missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury, and spent most of his second season limited to special teams duty.

Buffalo also lost three defensive starters to injury.

Free safety Ko Simpson is out indefinitely after breaking his left ankle. Cornerback Jason Webster is out indefinitely after breaking his forearm in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Coy Wire, filling in for injured starter Keith Ellison, sprained his knee in the first quarter.

Simpson was hurt when he had his feet cut out from beneath him by teammate Jason Webster as the two were attempting to tackle Broncos receiver Javon Walker. Simpson fell immediately to the ground and was unable to put any weight on his left foot.

A fine young man goes to work on a Sunday afternoon to do the thing he loves best … and may never walk again. Understandable for a soldier or a miner or a truck driver, but for a football player? Something is wrong, very wrong.

All this happened in just one day of the NFL’s schedule.

I don’t need to watch this medical “reality” TV show on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps ABC should start running General Hospital on the weekends, maybe move Grey’s Anatomy to Sunday nights.

And I won’t even go into the many sad reports of professional football players who will have to live with — as some have died from — the long-term effects of multiple concussions to the brain. Just do a web search for “football concussion.”

Yes, football is a contact sport. Yet modern conditioning programs have become so good, and there is such a monetary incentive because many of us spend part of our weekends watching athletes of enormous size, speed and strength intentionally throw their bodies at one another, providing that vast audience that attracts advertisers, and so makes available the money that pays for the teams … and also for the expense of large hospital bills.

Too much pain, way to much pain, for so little gain.

Let’s hope the owners, executives and players who make this game possible work together to find ways to make it safer.

Until they do, we’ll all share their pain.

Postscript added 2007/09/21: Today’s NY Times bears good news, The Bills’ Everett Will Head Home to Houston to Start His Rehabilitation, “Everett has continued to defy doctors’ early predictions as he recovers from a collision Sept. 9 against the Denver Broncos that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.”

My thoughts are with Mr. Everett and his family and I fervently hope his recovery goes well.

By the way, the Times also reports that outcome of yet another cheating episode in sport, showing this is not confined to football, and can be found in cycling, too.

Using Tabbed Windows to Manage Your WordPress Blog

Here’s a tip on managing your WordPress blog by using your browser’s tabbed windows.

For example, I maintain a page “Posts” that lists all my posts in the order they appeared, with the oldest first. Here’s how I update that list.

I go to My Dashboard and then do Manage->Pages. I then locate the “Posts” page and click on Edit. I will use this tabbed window to updated the Posts list.

I scroll down to the end of the page to see the last post I entered. I then make a few copies of the following line so I can enter the latest posts:

[a href=""][/a]

(Note that it’s hard to present text that looks like a URL without WordPress trying to interpret it as a URL, so I had to write [ and “]” above where the correct characters are of course “<” and “>,” respectively.)

I then open a second tab, go to My Dashboard and then do Manage->Posts.

I’m now looking at a list of my most recent posts. I find the first one written after the last one I had entered on the “Posts” page. I right click on the “View” entry and then left click on the “Copy Link Location” to grab a copy of the URL. I then go back to the first tab and paste the URL to come between the quotation marks in the href part of the link. I then go back to the second tab, find the start of the post title, moving and holding down the mouse until I have selected the title text. I then right click and then left click on “Copy” to copy that text. I then go back the first tab and past the title text into the text part of the link.

I continue in this fashion until I have created links to all the recent posts. I finish by clicking on the “Save” button to update the “Posts” page.

This can all be done very quickly and quite reliably. Knowing that encourages me to keep the “Posts” page up to date.

Sometimes I can even make use of a third tabbed window, as I did when writing this post, so I could view the contents of the other two windows as a reference.

Good job, WordPress Team.

You can put it on my tab.

Building your own Linux Ubuntu computer using the ECS GeForce 6100SM-M motherboard

As I mentioned in an earlier post, On Building, Buying, or Recycling a Computer to Run Ubuntu Linux, you have several options in acquiring the hardware to install and run Ubuntu Linux.

In brief, this is a “make or buy” decision. Should you buy a computer that someone else built or make your own computer, either by refurbishing an older one or building a new one from scratch?

It’s not that hard to build a computer these days. It is fun and you can usually build one for less cost than buying one from a manufacturer or dealer. It can also be a educational experience.

Part of the savings comes from not having to pay the “Windows tax,” the part of the manufacturer’s cost that consists of Windows licensing fees that must be sent to Microsoft’s coffers. You can also find better deals on used machines if you look for machines that don’t come with Windows, as fewer people will be interested in them.

Here’s a report on my recent experience building a computer from scratch based on the ECS GeForce 6100SM-M motherboard. Here are some pictures to start things off:

The Free-Shipping Ubuntu Box

The Free-Shipping Ubuntu Box

The Free-Shipping Ubuntu Box

The Free-Shipping Ubuntu Box

Home-built machine using GeFORCE 6100SM-M Motherboard

You want you use components that are known to work well with Ubuntu. As I noted in my earlier post to build a computer you need:

  • A case;
  • A power supply for the case;
  • At least one fan to cool the power supply and other components inside the case;
  • A motherboard;
  • A processor chip to connect to the motherboard;
  • One of more memory chips, also known as “memory sticks”;
  • A cooling system for the processor, usually in the form of a fan;
  • A hard drive;
  • An optical drive, either a cd-rom drive or, more usually these days, a combined dvd/cd-rom drive;
  • A video chipset on the motherboard or a separate video/graphics card to power the monitor.

Once you have these components, you also need a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse to make a complete system. I won’t say any more about these as these tend to always work with Ubuntu; for example, you don’t need a special Ubuntu keyboard. I also won’t say more about the optical drive, as recent models tend to always work on Ubuntu.

Sometimes components come be purchased as a single component that combines several of the above components. For example, you can buy a case that come with a power supply and cooling fan, or you can buy the “retail” form of a processor, which incudes the processor chip; a cooling system, usually in the form of a fan; and a special past that you need to attach the fan to the processor. Or you can buy a motherboard with built-in video support.

I always favor buying these larger components as this is more cost effective.

I also buy my parts from one of my favorite companies, Newegg.com. I wrote the post On Buying and Building Hardware: Break a Leg with Newegg to share some of the lessons I have learned in over three years as a satisfied Newegg customer.

I decided a few weeks back to build a new computer from scratch. It was a spur of the moment thing in that I didn’t really need another computer, but I also wanted to perform the experiment of seeing how much it would cost to build a decent desktop with currently available component technology.

I made several decisions before exploring Newegg to decide just which components to buy.

I didn’t want to be as cheap as possible, but as cheap as made sense. My experience over the years has been that is is most effect by something at the level just above the cheapest. For example, when I bought a house I had to buy things like plumbing tools, shovels, rakes, lawn mowers and so forth. I have most of them over twenty years later. The ones that I don’t are the ones that I paid too little for, so when they broke and I had to replace them I bought high quality. For example, I have bought damn good rakes, shovels, and driveway brooms.

I wanted a case that included a fan and a power supply. I wasn’t seeking very high performance and wasn’t building this computer to run games; hence I knew that I didn’t need a large power supply or more than one fan.

I wanted to use an AMD processor. I have found AMD processors to be more cost effective, and I had good luck with a machine I built back in May 2004 that I have since refurbished to run Ubuntu Linux (I’ll report on that experience in a forthcoming post).

I then knew I wanted to buy that AMD processor in “Retail” form, which means you get the processor, the fan, and the thermal compound (a paste-like substance) that you need to attach the fan to the processor.

This, by the way, is an important lesson. When I built my first machine I bought an “OEM” processor since it was cheaper. Once it arrived and I started to assemble the machine I realized I needed a fan, so I had to spend the money for that and wait a few days for it to arrive. Then I realized I needed some thermal compound. To add insult to injury, that thermal compound cost about ten dollars, five for the compound and another five dollars to ship the little tube it came in, a tube that weighed much less than an ounce, and I need only a few drops of that compound. Keep it simple — always buy “Retail” processors.

I decided to use the most commonly-used technology. That is, whenever I had a choice of technologies, I would choose the technology with the most options. For example, if you look at Newegg’s list of AMD processors, you will find that the largest number of available processors have “AM2” as their “CPU Socket Type.”

I also knew that the key component would be the motherboard. This is the traffic cop, the “computer within the computer, ” that ties all the other components together. It links the memory chips to the processor chip, the hard drive to the hardware bus, the keyboard to the processor, and so forth.

Once you have settled on the processor type and the socket type, you then have to pick a motherboard. This decision choice determines what kind of memory you will need, the number of additional hard drives and plugin cards that can be attached, and so on.

I also wanted a motherboard with a built-in video chipset that was known to work well with Ubuntu and that supported 1280×1024 monitors, as these are the most cost-effective monitors available today.

And of course I wanted a motherboard that was known to support Ubuntu, one that was so easy to use that a number of Newegg customers had posted comments about their success. I also wanted a motherboard that more than a few customer comments, in part because Ubuntu is still such a small share of the total market that I couldn’t expect to get any useful information about Ubuntu for a product with just a few tens of user comments.

I also decided to limit my costs, and have some fun in the process, I decided use only components available from Newegg with “free shipping.” Newegg charges at least $5 to ship most components, and $15 or more for components you can’t hold in your hand, such as cases and monitors. But Newegg offers various specials, including some components with free shipping, and also “combo deals” in which you get a discount by buying two related components at the same time, such as a motherboard and processor.

I thus knew I needed an motherboard that supported AMD Socket AM2. Since I also wanted a built-in video chipset, I did a little web investigation and found favorable mention of the Nvidia GeForce 6100, so I then looked for a motherboard with that video chipset.

Here are some of the customer comments on Ubuntu and the ECS GeForce6100SM-M (1.0) AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 6100S Micro ATX AMD Motherboard – Retail, $50:

  • “Have been running Ubuntu 7.04 on this board for several months now without any problems. Integrated graphics works surprisingly well.”
  • “I paired this with an Athlon 64 X2 3600+ and 2 GB Transcend DDR2 800. Running with Linux kernel 2.6.20 and Kubuntu 7 for amd64. Everything works perfectly. A fine choice for a low-cost Linux workstation.”
  • “Running Ubuntu on this thing, with an X2 3600+ and a 1 gig stick of OCS Gold DDR2 800. Seems quick and solid.”
  • “Good price and it didn’t take a lot of tweaking to get it to work properly with the DVD/SATA/IDE drives. Seems most on-board hardware is supported by Ubuntu 7.04 by default.”
  • “I wanted a quality and inexpensive mobo to build my first computer. I’m glad I got this bundled with the Sempron 3000+. I have it running Ubuntu 7.04 with Beryl! I just needed to install the Nvidia drivers to get Beryl to run but so far everything has been stable, I’m extremely satisfied with what I got.”

That was good enough for me, so this motherboard was the first thing I put in my shopping cart. After reading the motherboard specifications I did a little research and then added these components to my shopping cart:

AMD Athlon 64 3000+ Orleans 1.8GHz 512KB L2 Cache Socket AM2 Processor – Retail, $42.

Kingston 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Desktop Memory – Retail, $40.

Next came the hard drive. You can get a good one for about $50, but for not that much more you can go to 250GB:

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD2500KS 250GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive – OEM, $65.

The case?

Rosewill R604TSB-N 120mm Fan ATX Mid Tower Computer Case+450W Power Supply – Retail, $60.

If you haven’t built your own machine before and are hesitant, I suggest you take a look at the motherboard manual. For this machine it can be found at GeForce6100SM-M (V1.0) Manufacturer’s site. If you find interesting to read it then steam on. If you don’t then go find your hardware to run Ubuntu another way.

Once the components arrived, it took only a few hours to assemble. Experienced builders can do it in much less than an hour, but I wanted to prolong the fun and so took my time.

Here are a few thoughts on on assembling the system. You can find lots of resources on the web about how to build your own computer. I’m mainly writing this to shows it’s not that hard and to report on a particular list of components that worked for me.

  1. Open up the case.
  2. Do NOT connect any AC power cord to the case until instructed to do so.
  3. Attach the motherboard to the case using the supplied screws. Don’t force anything.
  4. The motherboard comes with a small panel that you need to insert in the back of the case. This is where you will connect the display, the mouse, and so on. If the case comes with such a panel then discard it. Be sure to use the panel that comes with the motherboard.
  5. Insert the processor in its socket. There’s usually a lever to lock it into place.
  6. Spread the thermal compound on the top of the processor. You don’t need much. If you are using the compound that comes with a “retail” processor you can use all of it. Otherwise you want just enough to cover the top of the processor with a thin film.
  7. Mount the processor fan on top of the processor, and lock it in place.
  8. Insert the memory chip(s). There’s only one way to do it, so don’t force anything.
  9. Connect the processor fan’s cable to the motherboard.
  10. Connect all the other cables in the case to the motherboard. Follow the diagrams in the motherboard manual. Be sure to connect the cable for the case fan and power supply.
  11. Install the hard drive and the optical drive, connecting their cables to the motherboard.
  12. Leaving the case open, connect the cables for the monitor, mouse, keyboard, and internet (ethernet) to the appropriate slots in the rear of the case, in the small panel you installed in step (4).

Take a break. Once you’re rested it’s time to power up your new baby.

Leave the case open. Inside it you should now have a case fan, a processor fan, and perhaps another fan on the motherboard. You may have additional fans on the case.

You want the case open and you want to be looking at fans, most importantly the fan on top of the processor chip, when you first power up the machine. Connect the power cable from a wall socket to the case. The machine may start. If it doesn’t then press the power switch.

If you don’t see the processor fan spinning then immediately shut down the power. A processor can operate for only a few minutes without cooling else it will be destroyed.

Don’t continue until you know all the fans are operational.

A good way to test a new machine is to use a “live” cd. I tried the standard Ubuntu install disk in this way.

Wouldn’t you know it? The box worked right off the bat, so I just steamed on and did a full Ubuntu install. Installing Ubuntu is not hard; you are given lots of guidance.

That machine has been solid as a rock since I first powered it up. It’s name on my home network is “fs,” not “fs” for “file server,” but “fs” for “free shipping.”

It is also quiet. By the way, if noise is a real issue to you, then pay the bucks and go with an Antec “Sonata” case. When I built my first machine I used a cheapo case that came with a fan that made me feel like I was in a wind tunnel. I threw it out and, after some research, bought a Sonata. However, this machine is almost as quiet as my older one with the Sonata case.

This is not a toy system. It is more than adequate for every day desktop use, even if you are a developer. It has 1GB of memory and a 250GB SATA hard drive with a built-in NVIDIA GeForce 6100 video chipset that supports 1280×1024 resolution very well.

The case is good but not great. I found it hard to work with the little plastic knobs that you are supposed to able to tighten components in place without having to use a screwdrive, so I used a screwdriver to unscrew and then discard the knobs, and then to screw the components into place.

In summary you can build a complete computer from scratch that can run Ubuntu for about $250. This doesn’t count the cost of the monitor and the optical drive. You can get both for about $200, bringing the total cost up to $450. You’ll have a computer that is not a toy, not a slouch, but a serious desktop machine.

It’s worth noting that while you may find manufactured systems for less cost, this system has a 250GB drive and high-quality components. The components you can get from Newegg tend to be of higher quality than the commodity components used by manufacturers, so you can expect a more reliable and trouble-free system if you “roll your own.”

Not only can you save money, but you will have the satisfaction of using something you put together with your own hands. Doing so gave me confidence, as it will you.

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