LJ Archive


Those Crazy Engineers

I really enjoyed Joey Bernard's “People, Research, Excellence” in the Upfront section of the November 2009 issue about using Linux tools for processing scientific/engineering data. Being an engineer, I can confirm that we do indeed use these kinds of data-processing tricks. We often string them together in pipelines.

We used to have a friendly competition to see who could string together the longest pipeline. Double pipelines were common, and soon triple pipelines became common too. We even had the occasional “quadruple piper” show up.

However, we finally bestowed the coveted “Hooka Award” to a five pipeline string. I do not remember the exact sequence, but it involved grep, sort, cut paste, awk and xgraph. It may have been done with fewer pipes in awk, but it met the committee's criteria of unique, useful and nonredundant functions for each pipe.

Henry Hojnacki

Goggle Hacks?

Thanks to Kyle Rankin for reviewing the Vuzix VR920 goggles in the December 2009 issue. This set of video goggles looks to be nice for video gaming, but depending on how someone can feed the two screens, it may be better suited for those who put on mascots. If Vuzix makes a version that takes DVI input and works with the BeagleBoard, what's to stop someone from integrating two Webcams into a head of a mascot? This will work nicely with hobbyists as well as the special-effects industry. Jim Henson could be proud! Thanks for the great article.

Kelly Price

Calculating Distance

Coincidently, Dave Taylor's columns on calculating latitude and longitude in the November and December 2009 issues were published at the same time I was writing some code (though not a shell script) to do the same thing for a client. The only problem I can see in Dave's solution is the conversion from kms to miles. One mile is equal to 0.621371 kms. Dave's answer to the distance between Long Beach, CA, and Boston, MA, is pretty close. Calculating the distance between Boston's Logan airport and Long Beach's Daugherty Field, I calculate 2594.8 miles. A flight-planning program I use puts the distance at 2594.5 miles. I would chalk Dave's difference up to the Yahoo Maps route, which will not be a straight line.

Ed Rubinsky

Microsoft Trolls?

I too think Linux Journal is getting letters from Microsoft Trolls [see the “Linux on the Desktop, Continued” letter in the December 2009 issue]. For example, the author of the “Dark Days?” letter in December 2009 issue claims he bought a small laptop running Linux. He didn't specify what laptop or what distribution. (There's a clue.) He claims it was incompatible with 3 mobile broadbands. He claims he had no success loading Java. He claims he had no luck loading a (USB?) 56k modem for emergency use. What a crock of cranberries.

A little over a year ago, I bought an ASUS 901 Eee PC from Target. Out of the box, I had no trouble connecting one of three unsecured Wi-Fis in my multi-unit condo. I didn't try the other two. Later on, I was able to connect to the Wi-Fi at a local public library with no problem. Still later, I was able to connect to my son's encrypted Wi-Fi (that did take a few minutes of fiddling).

I have a hard-wired network. It was no problem to incorporate the 901 into it. Just bring up a terminal screen on it (pressing Ctrl-Alt-t does that) and tweak a couple configuration files. Oh, did I mention I can print documents from the 901 to the printer attached to my primary PC?

The 901 came with Java on it. It's version 1.5. I installed 1.6.0_7 so I could run Moneydance on it. I had to tweak Moneydance's startup bash script so it would find where I installed it. Moneydance runs just fine. I installed MySQL on it so I could run my automobile fuel purchases and maintenance log software on it.

I had to install emeditor so I could invoke the software I installed from the GUI. It's running the Linux distro it came with. It does what I need it to do without changing the OS, so I didn't bother. It worked fine right out of the box for all the ordinary things—connecting to a Wi-Fi access point, doing e-mail, accessing the Web, writing, viewing pictures, watching YouTube videos and so on. True, I had to know something about using a computer before I could customize it, but so what? That's true for any of them.

One last thought. You know how to cripple a computer? Get rid of the command-line interface.

Dan Curtis

Although I'm not convinced the letters are from Microsofty folks, I admit it's often a bit odd to hear the problems people claim to have with their laptops. But then again, I got an Acer Aspire One 751h and had boatloads of problems. If the person is truly a new user, it's unlikely he or she knows what to specify when asking for help—“Uh, it's blue, does that help?” So it's very likely people are having legitimate concerns. The truth of the matter is that I'm unlikely to get flustered with scathing letters to the editor complaining about Linux's shortfalls. Our community is one that should strive to be open and helpful when people are looking for help and lend a sympathetic ear when people just want to vent. Why? Because if our goal is to help people understand the value of open source, we need to be that value.

So if they are trolls, I say bring 'em on. Some of the best Linux advocates were Windows users at one time!—Ed.

SheevaPlug Please

Hello, your magazine mentioned the SheevaPlug briefly (www.linuxjournal.com/article/10440), but I think that this interesting little device might be a good target for review. I've been thinking of getting one, as I'd love to have a Web server at home, but I don't want to have yet another machine sucking up power (not to mention, leaving it on all the time, avoiding distro hopping and so on, just to make sure that my server doesn't suffer from downtime). The SheevaPlug seems to be a full ARM-based (and tremendously low-power!) computer the size of an AC adapter, perfect for SSH and setting up whatever server a user would desire. I have found some reviews on-line, but none from sources that I trust as much as Linux Journal. Anyway, here's to hoping that one of your writers takes it for a spin sometime!


I agree. In my house, the “server room” is our closet, and with a full-blown computer running in there, it gets hot! Not only are we interested in the SheevaPlug, but we also have an article lined up. Stay tuned for our take soon. (I'm actually waiting for the article to decide if I want to get one too!)—Ed.

Thanks Microsoft!

Like many geeks, people often ask me to fix their computers. Thanks to Vista and Windows 7, this has been happening a lot more often. I make a good bit of money, and I often convince them to install an “extra operating system” for free. I tell them, “if worse comes to worse, and Windows fails again, you always can use Ubuntu as a backup operating system so you still can get on-line or whatever. But, it is a very good OS and you should check it out.”

So, I customize it for them (people can be very militant about docks or where a taskbar is). I also resolve possible wireless problems or blacklist modules that could cause hardware problems, and usually I like to put a little text document on their desktop as a quick walk-through.

So far, I have had only one person actually prefer Vista, in which case I removed Ubuntu for him. Everyone else has given me enormously positive feedback, and many have asked me to remove Windows altogether. A lot of the time, they even pay me a little extra. So, I would like to thank Microsoft for all the extra business and money it has been throwing my way.

Zachay Bittner

Awesome. Might I add, installing things like Dropbox (dropbox.com) and Xmarks (xmarks.com) can make such transitions much less painful. If people have access to their documents and bookmarks, it makes using other computers pretty painless. Also, be sure to install lots of fun games in Linux. Even Solitaire gets old after a while, and they might reboot just to play Frozen Bubble!—Ed.

Work the Shell and C

Without looking it up for confirmation, it appears that your distance program [see Dave Taylor's “Calculating the Distance between Two Latitude/Longitude Points” in the December 2009 issue] is calculating doubles from input args parsed as floats (via atof). It's just a guess, but that would probably introduce those darn rounding errors.

Frank Brown

Dave Taylor replies: That's a good possibility. I'll dig into that one and see where I get. Thanks.

Penguin Gets Her Man Back

Check out this story: www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,658985,00.html.

Mario Costa

I have a similar, but a bit less charming story: tinyurl.com/penguinguy.—Ed.

Desktop Linux? Not Yet

I have been a fan of Linux from its beginning and have followed the debate of whether it is ready for the general desktop as a main competitor to Windows. However, time and again I have been disappointed. My last confrontation was with Ubuntu, which I installed on my Dell Inspiron 530s. The wireless card has the Broadcom chipset (4328 rev 3), and it turns out this is not supported by any Linux distribution (out of the box). You can go through some contortions and install the drivers yourself, and I was able to do it for Ubuntu 9.04 but not for 9.10. Now, Dell is the first or second biggest computer maker, and Broadcom is also a major wireless chip supplier, so how come they are not supported by Linux (and this problem has been known for at least 2–3 years)? Even if Broadcom does not release its driver source code, why wouldn't the Linux distributors provide a simple script to install the right driver? This and similar problems prevent Linux from being a real competitor to Windows on the desktop.

Eli Sternheim

Sigh. Up until Windows 7, installing drivers (that strange contortion) on Windows was much more common than the need on Linux. Even companies that don't provide source code aren't the problem—it's not providing any driver support for Linux. Take NVIDIA, for example. There is no source code for its drivers, but it supports the Linux community by providing close-sourced binary drivers for its hardware.

The other side of the coin is that hardware changes so often, a revision 3 vs. a revision 2 could be drastic. Shouldn't it be up to Dell to provide the drivers? If you want a driver for the Dell for Windows, you go to Dell's support site. Shouldn't Dell do the same for Linux? When it's all said and done, the Linux community is doing a fairly remarkable job supplying workarounds for strange hardware. Hopefully, support will continue to get better, even if vendors don't actively help!—Ed.

Dave Taylor's Problems with Distance

I think the distances computed by Dave's distance.c program are okay [see Dave's Work the Shell in the December 2009 issue]. I started to check the formulas carefully and then had an idea: Wolfram|Alpha (www.wolframalpha.com). Entering “denver, co to chicago, il”, I got 916.7 miles—quite close to Dave's 917.984. Then, “long beach, ca to boston, ma” yielded 2,599 miles—pretty darn close to Dave's 2,597.53 miles. I would say his computations are okay.

So, why do the computations yield 2,599, when Yahoo Maps says it's 3,015, a good 400 miles longer? If you display the route chosen by Yahoo, it definitely does not look like a straight line. But the computed distance is along a great circle, not a straight line, and if you draw a great circle between the BOS and LGB airports using GPS Visualizer (www.gpsvisualizer.com/calculators), it is surprisingly close to the road route shown by Yahoo. (By the way, GPS Visualizer says the distance is 2,598.4 miles, so I think you can quit worrying about your distance computations.)

It may be that there is a fractal effect here: when the route is viewed from afar, it looks like a fairly smooth curve. However, if each short segment is examined, there probably is a lot of zigzag. (But 400 miles of zigzag?)

Roger House

Dave Taylor replies: Roger, I like your answer. We'll tally it up to a lot of sidetracks and inefficient roads.

A Penguin with Good Eyesight

I was in a reflective mood today and thought I should share some of my thoughts to encourage those of you cutting your teeth with Linux. Five years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about this glorious operating system, and I am within a month's time going to be starting up the first LUG in our community with 20 terminals available, so we can start collectively raising up new “Penguins” throughout our city. If you are discouraged with not knowing what in the world the terminal is, or if you think that “apt-get” is computer lingo for a “hiccup” or “yum” is an edible OS, you are not alone.

What I have found to be an invaluable resource is this magazine. At first, I thought I was reading some kind of hieroglyphic, but eventually, I caught on to one thing and then another. My wife thinks I am celebrating Christmas when my trip to the mailbox renders the next month's copy of LJ. I can't wait to read every page from front to back, even if I don't understand about 50% of it!

Bill Hybels, an American author, once said, “Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution.” This is how I view Linux and the Linux community. My goal is to one day see my community hosting a Linux conference. It may not be of the same scale as many advertised within LJ, however, Linux has inspired me to go from a computer user paralyzed with problems to a “Penguin with good eyesight”.

If you are a new user, hang in there. Be a good researcher. Learn to dual-boot. The pain of learning this OS pays off in no time. I spent 30 hours trying to work with my former OS and could not fix the problems I was having. I dedicated 30 hours to learning my new OS, and it was time spent wisely.

Much thanks to all who have contributed to this magazine and my growth as a Penguin. May we all improve our Vision!

Dean Anderson

Aw, shucks Dean, you're making us blush! Regarding a community Linux event, to be completely honest, they're usually at least as helpful as the big ones. My suggestion would be to start small. Perhaps invite a couple school techs to your LUG meetings and so on. I'm a big fan of Linux in education, so my suggestion may be biased, but if you can get kids using Linux in school, total world domination is the next logical step!—Ed.

Sick of Windows Ads

I think every day I see an ad on the TV for Windows. It first started with Vista, then I really started to take notice. Now we have those lame “Windows, you find it you keep it” and Windows 7 ads. I have seen Linux ads only from IBM. Why are there no TV ads for Linux? I don't hate Windows, but I love Linux. By the way I also love your magazine. I have been getting it since 1998/1999.

John M.

Sadly, the big reason is money. Television ads are very expensive. I think the only hope would be for hardware vendors to bank some money on a Linux ad campaign to sell laptops and so forth. Until then, we'll likely remain grass-roots, especially on the desktop.—Ed.

Quake 3 at 1080p on an MSI Wind U115 with Moblin

We did some videos during the Mobile Developer camp in Munich, and there was a developer from the Linux Foundation, showing us what you can get out of the Poulsbo chipset with some decent drivers. This is running on Moblin 2.0, and it gets some 30–40fps! Check out the video here: www.netbooknews.de/10590/video-quake-iii-in-full-hd-mit-gma500-grafik-intel-atom-z-series-unter-moblin-linux.

Keep in mind, this might be the GPU for the upcoming Moorestown platform (I am 95% sure), so we will see such GPU-power in handhelds and smartphones!


It's funny, I saw that video the day after my big rant on the Linux Journal Web site about the Poulsbo chipset. I really hope it leads to something viable on those Netbooks with the GMA500, but I'm still not holding my breath. Thanks for sending in the link. It's a little encouraging!—Ed.

Photo of the Month

Have a photo you'd like to share with LJ readers? Send your submission to info@linuxjournal.com. If we run yours in the magazine, we'll send you a free T-shirt.

Here are a couple shots of me doing some tower work on a pair of long-distance 802.11 Wi-Fi links. The equipment being installed is a pair of Ubiquiti Bullet2-HP radios, which are Linux-based. They are actually replacing a pair of Cisco radios that were found to be incredibly fragile. One of the wireless links provides service to a fireworks company (Premier Pyrotechnics) located about 11 miles from the city of Richland, Missouri. The other is to provide service to the company president, both of which are located in areas where any sort of broadband is completely unavailable other than satellite service. You can see, my Open Source backpack and Ubuntu backpacks came in handy for doing the “heavy lifting”. Submitted by Nathan Neulinger.

LJ Archive