Sunday, February 20, 2005

Goodbye Debian - Hello Gentoo!

That's right! I am leaving Debian Linux for Gentoo. After more than a year, flirting with Woody (stable branch) and then later Sarge (testing branch of Debian), running it since they day I bought by notebook, I decided to make the switch.

Now don't get me wrong, I love Debian. The change was motivated buy several reasons, among which...

  • I want to learn Gentoo a bit more extensively. I used it here and there, but now feel its time to goto bed with it.
  • My batteries on the notebook are dying (about 30-45min), so I don't mind the extra stress that a compilation puts on power management anymore.
  • Debian is fast (say compared to RH). Gentoo feels even faster.
    Gentoo has some cool non-free apps in portage (repository).
  • I'd still be using Debian both at home and office anyways

It all started last week as I struggled to download the two Gentoo CDs on our slow, highly congested office network, only to find the packages CD didn't have the proper MD5sums matching. This called for some drastic measures. So I ran up my buddy, Suchetha, who owns a shop down Liberty Plaza, to the rescue. We had a good time copying stuff :) and just chilling out.

Satuday, I just relaxed, cutting my Msc classes and sleeping mostly. I needed the break after a stressful week. In between naps, I got down with the painful task of backing up my stuff to DVDs.

Unfortunately my calm Saturday was not be enjoyed for long! Two of my uncles had problems with their machines and so they showed up eating away a couple of hours of my time. It wasn´t all that wasted though since, I did managed to install Mepis on one of the Uncle´s desktop before he left -- not that he really wanted it, but I insisted :)

I was finally ready to wipe my hard disk, also getting rid of the official winXP home edition that was installed. For those of you who may be wondering, I kept that around since it had the HP battery optimizing tool and the TV out (which worked but not with movies due to refresh rate problems I guess). Since the battery was pretty much dead, it was time to wipe it out completely.

As I reached for the Gentoo CDs my eyes switched over to the FreeBSD 5.3 CDs. Hmmm now that windows is no more, perhaps this would be an interesting complement, I thought. After a couple of unsuccessful installation attempts, caused due either my ignorance or the BSD boot loader's inability to boot the OS when its not installed in the first partition, prompted me to give up that idea. I did manage to install a default FreeBSD starting at the beginning of the hard disk with KDE, but then decided that was a separate beast I would deal with inside a virtual machine.

Finally today, in between my Linux classes, I managed to install a basic Gentoo system. As soon as I got home, late in the evening, I continued installing the majority of the desktop applications including KDE, OpenOffice, Gaim etc. The fact that I used the Gentoo GRP (binary packages), made things much easier (as opposed to compiling everything). But some packages required me to download them off the net.

Even as I write this blog, I am emerging (Gentoo lingo to mean download, compile, install) some packages off my slow dialup. Looks like I'll have continue emerging tomorrow as well :)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Scouts get a Linux insight


Finding the auditorium, dubbed "nawa rangahala" meaning "the new hall", wasn't too difficult with Suchetha around. Being an old boy of Royal College, he showed the path while enticing us with his misfit school boy activities.

oilamp When we go there the presentation had already been setup on another laptop with Power Point. Fortunately there was enough time for me to boot up my linux box and replace it with Koffice. Soon is was time to start the proceedings, and the first item on the agenda was the lighting of the oil lamp. It felt quite weird when I heard my name being called to light the oil lamp. believe or not, I don't recall ever having to do that!

After a small introduction to the event by the school's principal, it was time for the BCS presentation. It was agreed that I would operate the transition of slides as Ruwan Mali would gave the presentation. This was going to be tricky indeed, as I soon learned it wasn't easy leaning against the table and switching between the screen and the presenter, looking out for a signal that it was time to move to the next slide.

The auditorium being an open one at both ends caused some problems, among which the sunlight dropping on the screen was the biggest. This was soon remedied by closing off the curtains and projecting directly at the white curtain backdrop.

Next on the agenda was the LKLUG's Linux presentation. As I took the floor, I could see a lot of enthusiastic eyes look right back. "How many of you have computers, pleas raise your hand ?", I asked them. To my surprise, just about everyone's hand went up. The surprise for me wasn't really the fact that almost everyone had computers, but that they instantly raised their hands! Sri Lankan adults are never this responsive ! "How many of you play computer games? Unreal Tournament, Doom 3?". More hands go up as Suchetha takes center stage and shouts to the crowd. Now at this point it was like the 250 or scouts were under some sort of spell or control as their full attention is directed at us. "Well Linux can do all this. May games, music, movies !", shouted Suchetha.

Once we had their full attention it was quite easy to silently talk about the importance of Free/OpenSource software. While booting off the Live Sinhala Knoppix CD, it was evident to the crowd that this certainly was a home brewed distro. I told them, "You can download and modify the source code of Linux! You can make a difference with Linux!". Their enthusiasm remained through out the one and half hour or so interactive presentation. Next we started asking questions from the crowd and giving away (some times even throwing) CDs to those who answered correctly. We even had a question that was prepared by a senior scout, who found it difficult to compose a question, perhaps because he didn't seem to have been paying too much attention, but nevertheless was answered swiftly by the younger scouts. This item was quite happening, cause once all the CDs had been given to those who answered questions, one younger scout at the front row asked, "Do you have any more Linux questions?"

The program ended with a couple of lucky draws and on a positive note that LKLUG is committed to working with BCS or who ever for that matter to educate school children on the significance and advantages of this wonderful OS platform.

scoutgrp gang

Note: I had some bad luck with the batteries on my camera dying on me. Once I get some pictures from other sources I'll have it up.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The day before Scouts gets a Linux insight...

Tomorrow will be an exciting day for me. Its the first time I will be talking to a bunch of scouts consisting of school children ranging from about age 8 to 18, on GNU/Linux. I am very excited and at the same time slightly nervous, after all I've never talked to a kids gathering before. Remembering my self, growing up at the age of 8 - 13 back in Michigan, calmed me down and made me feel somewhat comfortable.

The event was organized by the British Computer Society , Sri Lankan section (BCS) and I got involved accidentally. Both Ruwan Fonseka and Anuradha Ratnaweera had done most of the ground work for setting up the event on behalf of LKLUG , but were unable to attend due to other commitments. Ruwan had translated part of the presentation that was to be done by Ruwan Mali of the BCS, into Sinhala using a Unicode font. The idea was to display the English slide followed by the Sinhala slide on a GNU/Linux platfor using OpenOffice.

Since OpenOffice support for sinhala is incomplete at the moment, I spend the whole of yesterday getting that imported to work with Koffice (or rather kpresentor), which is based on KDE and thus supports Sinhala Unicode rendering. At the same time I was pushing the idea of adding Sinhala rendering support to OpenOffice, to Harsha, who had previously patched ICU for Sinhala unicode support.

At about two or three in the evening, Harsha sent me a message asking me whether I'd like to work with him on patching up ICU, the screen rendering library used by OpenOffice. Unfortunately the previous patch he did was lost but nevertheless Harsha sounded confident about porting the current Pango patch to ICU, since the Indic rendering part of Pango was actually borrowed from ICU in the first place. This was a risky move at the time, especially considering I had a lot of organizing work left to do and the event required me to be at the venue (Royal College) on or before 9AM. Nevertheless if we could complete this task it would help the Sinhala Linux initiative to leap forward from its current status so we agreed to meet at the Narada center after work to hack OpenOffice the code base.

Back at office it was a busy day with other commitments on my part, and it was only about 8PM my self and Harsha were able to meet at the Narada center. Deep also joined the fun, since he had nothing better to do and came there later. I had the OpenOffice source code with me, but my hard disk was quite full so finding space, meant deleting files, backing up to slow USB hard drives etc. Anyway finally we started going through the code, patching it and then compiling it a few times. We met a few stumbling blocks along the way such as trying to get the LKLUG font to show up in OpenOffice only to discover that it probably didn't have the necessary truetype outlines that was required for inclusion (for a reason - thanks Harsha for pointing this out). Anyway after spending some time and ending up replacing with another font that Ven Mettavihari had developed, we hit our ultimate stumbling block, also known as TIME. It was 3 AM now and I still couldn't prepare for tomorrow's (well its today now) presentation.

Deep and Harsha who were now tired went home as I discovered that I didn't even have a copy of the latest presentation that I spent a long time preparing and importing to Koffice. Unfortunately while I was rushing out of office, I hadn't properly copied it to my notebook. With time against me, next I installed Sinhala Linux, since it had the KDE input method working, but later found that it didn't have Kpresenter needed to show the presentation. Trying to install kpresenter broke KDE altogether.

Dawn was breaking and there wasn't much time left. My eyes were also beginning to shut on me. It was now about 6:00 AM, so I decide it was too late to keep experimenting. I rushed out of the Narada center and headed to Virtusa to pickup my presentation. There was about three slides that also needed translating and so I got down and translated one of them, while I scratched my head to figure out the correct Sinhala wordings/grammer at 7 in the morning, after an all niter.

I rushed home, took a 5 min shower and rushed off again while struggling to explain why I didn't come home for the night and why and where I'm running off to again. The three guys at Narada had already prepared all the material we needed to take, and so we rushed to Royal College where we met up with Pradeepr, Suchetha and Deependra.

Stay tuned to the next blog for how things went!

To be continued...