Happy Christmas and New Year!

It’s been a fairly quiet year for the blog, and I’ve felt less inclination than usual to keep adding to it. But my inbox is testimony to the fact that there’s a cadre of faithful readers nonetheless, and so to them especially, I send festive greetings and wishes for a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year.

As my turkey slowly defrosts in time for the mega-roast tomorrow, I reflect genially on a year in which I finally got married; the two rescue cats finally became friendly; and I discovered the music of Vaughan Williams properly for the first time as a result of finally getting my music metadata into good order. Work plodded on as usual and I didn’t have to save a database from almost-total destruction due to System Admin mis-configuration for once. Windows went, and came back again… with a vengeance. RAC finally worked on Hyper-V (must write that one up sometime soon-ish). And I got to upgrade a lot of my hardware. We nearly moved house, and then decided not to, just in time.

It’s been a good year, if quieter than normal (or maybe I’m just getting older!). Looking forward to 2016, and hope all my readers feel similarly. See you in the New Year…

Christmas Upgrade

My two HP N40L servers have been doing sterling duty as file servers for over three years now (I first mentioned them here, which was written June 2012, so make that 3 years 5 months). There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with them: they just work. They’ve been subjected to new operating systems from time to time, but whether it’s Windows 2008, FreeNAS, CentOS or Windows 2012R2, they’ve continued to chug along quietly and reliably, serving up a >6TB mix of movies, music and photographs around the house.

But that’s about all they can do, because they are cursed with AMD Turion processors, which asthmatic ants with hernias can outperform… so there’s not been much messing with getting them to run virtual machines or do anything else computationally more advanced than basic file sharing.

Time, therefore, for a bit of an upgrade… to a Generation 8 HP Microserver. They’re not exactly new (lots of blog posts about them can be found back in 2013 and earlier), but they are still cheap and capable. I got the basic Celeron model at AU$370 including delivery -not bad, considering that the old N40L it replaces cost me something like AU$264 three years ago. Apparently Generation 9 servers are just round the corner …but they’ve been just round the corner for about a year now. Like practical fusion, they’re always just round the corner that never seems to materialize!

I think the new server is slightly noisier than the old: the fan has a definite purr which is more than I would want to have sitting next to me for any length of time. But once placed in the server cabinet and the door shut, I don’t think it will be an issue. It’s not a ‘roar’ or a ‘whine’ though, even so.

The box only shipped with a basic 2GB RAM, but happily the non-buffered ECC RAM the old server was using is compatible with the new, so a relatively simple swap between the two sorts that issue (I say “relatively simple” only because in the N40L, getting to your RAM involves scraping knuckles and a good deal of swearing as the entire motherboard has to be removed bodily from its casing -in which it fits exceedingly tightly! The new server fortunately has its two RAM slots easily accessible at the side of the in-situ motherboard, no fiddling required).

Installing the operating system was a piece of cake using HP’s in-built ‘Intelligent Provisioning’, which provides all the hardware drivers Windows needs, automatically and entirely painlessly.

RAID is provided by the in-built B120i storage controller, which does RAID 0, 1 and 1+0. There’s no RAID 5, which is a small future problem, because my second N40L uses it. Fortunately, the one this new server replaces only used RAID 0, so the native capabilities of the B120i are fine. For the record, I have this server using a 12TB RAID 0 array of 4 x 3TB disks. Being RAID 0, of course, I am vulnerable to total data loss …which is why this server near-continuously replicates its data onto the other server which is configured as a RAID 5 array of 4 x 4TB disks. I stream video from the RAID 0 box for performance reasons, knowing it might die at any time; I back everything up onto slower, safer RAID 5 and from there onto assorted external USB3 drives which are stored away from home. Our data should be safe enough! One day, I’d like to replace the 3TB drives with 4TB (or bigger!) ones and have everything RAID 5, but at US$150 per disk, that’s not going to be happening anytime soon.

I will be replacing the second N40L server shortly though, because it turns out that the B120i on the newer server allows you to create single-disk RAID 0 ‘arrays’. So you just wrap up each of your disks as a series of four independent RAID 0 arrays, then present them to Windows and allow it to turn them into a software RAID 5 set. RAID 5 on an out-of-the-box Gen 8 HP Microserver is therefore do-able. Lots of people turn their noses up at software RAID 5, of course, but I can’t say I’ve had any problem with it in ~4 years. It’s fit for my purposes -especially when you consider that the recommended HP controller card to fit in these boxes for doing RAID 5 ‘properly’ costs 2/3rds the price of the server itself!

The Celeron CPU is, of course, not exactly the best platform on which to do virtualization (though a hell of a lot better than an AMD Turion!) It does work well enough for what I need, though, and I don’t see any immediate need to consider an upgrade to a Xeon processor, though it’s been done by others -especially since an appropriate Xeon costs about as much as the entire server cost me in the first place! However, it’s nice to know that such an upgrade is possible, should I get desperate enough.

I might similarly want to spend some cash on pushing the RAM up from its current 8GB to its maximum 16GB… but that costs about a third the price of the server, too! It’s an option for about mid-2016, I suspect.

And what will become of the old N40Ls? To be honest, at 3.5 years old, I had considered them archaic to the point of disposal, but I might keep them around for a bit of playing and tinkering with Linux or Solaris. There’s still nothing fundamentally wrong with them… though my server cabinet will need a bit or reorganization to fit 4 microservers rather than 2!

Churchill on Windows?!

I’ve had many requests over the years to repeat my ‘Churchill Framework’ on Windows, “Churchill” being my mostly-automated way of building a virtual RAC using Linux as the operating system of choice.

I’ve always refused: if you want a desktop RAC on your Windows PC, why not just deploy Churchill ‘proper’ and have three virtual machines running CentOS. It’s a RAC, and it’s still “on” Windows, isn’t it?!

Well, of course, that wasn’t quite the point my correspondents were making. They wanted a desktop RAC running on top of purely Windows operating systems. They aren’t Linux users, and they’re not interested in working at a command line. Could I please oblige?

Again, I’ve always said no, because Windows costs lots of money. It’s easy to build a 3-node or a 6-node setup in Linux, because you aren’t paying $1000 a pop every time you install your operating system! It seemed to me that RAC-on-Windows was a nice idea (I had it working back in 2001 with 9i on Windows 2000 after all), but it wasn’t very practical as a learning platform.

Happily for my correspondents, I’ve now changed my view in that regard. All the Windows-based would-be DBAs of my acquaintance are working for companies that supply them with MSDN subscriptions. And Microsoft’s Technet evaluation options allow even people with no MSDN access to download and use Windows Server 2012 and beyond for free, for at least 6 months.

So I’ve given in. There’s now available a new article for doing Desktop RAC using nothing but Windows. It bears a passing resemblance to ‘proper’ Churchill: there are three servers to build, with one acting as the supplier of shared storage and needed network services to the others. There’s even the use of iSCSI to provide the virtual shared storage layer. But it’s about as non-Churchill as it gets, really, because everything is hand-built… which explains the enormous number of screenshots and the overall length of the article!


I feel it time to confess that I have yielded to temptation and reverted the entire household to Windows.

The two servers went back to being competent, unspectacular Windows 2012 R2 Servers, but this time with one of them promoted to being a Domain Controller and the other a Backup Domain Controller. My PC, two laptops and tablet have all had Windows 10 installed and the same is true for ToH’s PC.

I will say, however, that the concerns about Windows 10’s enthusiasm for ‘phoning home’ with a lot of “telemetry”, plus its rather alarming propensity to download and install updates without warning or the ability to decide whether or when to do so, are entirely real. I dealt with them in two ways: first, all my Windows 10 installs are of the Enterprise Edition. Unlike the Home Edition, that does let you pick-and-choose when and whether to update. Also unlike the Home and Pro Editions, when you configure it to not send telemetry data to Microsoft, it genuinely stops doing so. Additionally, by promoting my servers to be domain controllers, I get to configure a group policy that enforces these privacy-minded behaviours, household-wise.

In short, to deal with Windows 10’s perceived privacy and over-enthusiastic update problems, I’ve had to turn the house into something resembling a small business. It’s not a cheap option, I suppose, but it seems to do the trick.

There are two exceptions to the ‘Windows 10 Enterprise Everywhere’ technique. First, the little NUC unit that sits under the TV and acts as our Media Player/PVR stays at Windows 7 (because Microsoft, in its wisdom, decided to make Microsoft Media Center a paid-for option in Windows 8 and abolished it completely in Windows 10: if we want to keep watching the telly for free, Windows 7 is our only choice). Unfortunately, Microsoft have of late decided to release a number of Windows 7 ‘security patches’ that (a) nag you to ‘reserve your copy of Windows 10’; (b) actually downloads a complete copy of Windows 10 whether you want to or not; and (c) retrofit rather invasive telemetry capabilities to Windows 7, so that it starts to phone home as often as unconfigured Windows 10 would do.

To prevent any of these things happening on the new media PC, I’ve taken the rather drastic approach of disabling all updates. This would make the NUC a sitting duck for malware and security vulnerability exploits of all kinds, of course, so I’ve configured its network stack to have no Default Gateway. Basically, whilst the NUC can see the entire home network (which it has to be able to do so it can play movies and music streamed from the servers), it can’t see outside the house. Specifically, it has no idea how to get to the Internet, which is fine for us, though it wouldn’t be ideal if we were big users of Spotify, Netflix or similar, of course! I’ve also installed anti-virus software on it, so hopefully it has a basic level of protection against nasties… but it’s no substitute for proper security updates from the vendor. At some point, I will update it manually, being careful to exclude the telemetry patches… but Microsoft really need to stop using ‘security updates’ as a way of advertising their latest O/S!

The second exception to ‘Windows 10 Everywhere’ is, of course, The Other Half, who insists on using Microsoft Money to monitor and control our household finances. I’ve suggested migrating to a piece of software that wasn’t end-of-life’d back in 2006, but to no avail: 15 years of records, a happy track record of making me not spend money frivolously and a large dose of user inertia mean that Microsoft Money it has to remain. Which is unfortunate because that program uses Internet Explorer 6 internally for its main display capabilities. In Windows 8, one could run it in compatability mode and still have it work. In Windows 10, you can’t. So I built ToH a tiny virtual machine (measuring virtual RAM allocations in megabytes is weird!) and installed Windows XP 64-bit on it. It’s a host-only virtual machine and runs nothing but the operating system and this one application, so it can’t even access the rest of the home network and doesn’t need to. Hopefully, therefore, the fact that it’s an ancient, dead and vulnerable operating system won’t come to haunt me.

I guess the obvious question is: why go to all this effort? And I can only plead that Microsoft Media Centre, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Microsoft Money and Photoshop/Lightroom are non-negotiable for ToH. Which makes not having Windows anywhere in the house a non-starter. And if you have Windows somewhere, it soon becomes a lot easier to manage if it’s everywhere, I think. :-)

In my defence, we were actually an almost-non-Windows household for three weeks: I built ToH a new PC running Linux Mint, and tried to explain the delights of Dark Table, Flight Gear and KMyMoney, but it didn’t go down well. And there never were any real options for a PVR with a 10-foot interface that isn’t Microsoft Media Centre. So the experiment proved short-lived and we’re now a house of little Microsofties once more.

Chocolate Spread

If you were of a mind to re-install Windows 10 (speaking entirely hypothetically, of course!), you could do worse than investigate Chocolatey -an application which purports to give Windows a tool roughly equivalent to apt-get. It makes installing a bunch of software post-OS-install a simple matter of typing in one command in a terminal window.

To install Chocolatey itself, you do as the page I linked to tells you to do: make sure your Internet connection is working, then open a command window with administrator privileges and copy-and-paste in this one command:

@powershell -NoProfile -ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Command "iex ((new-object net.webclient).DownloadString('https://chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))" && SET PATH=%PATH%;%ALLUSERSPROFILE%\chocolatey\bin

Once you’ve done that (it takes about a minute), you’re ready to install your software. You can browse (very laboriously, I have to say -they need to do something about that!) through the ‘gallery’ of packages that are available and the relevant “choco” command to install them. For example, if you want to install Firefox, you’ll find that the installation command is choco install -y firefox.

Here’s the command I would issue to get all my favourite software installed in one chocolatey hit:

choco install -y stellarium notepadplusplus winscp firefox vlc google-chrome-x64 procexp wget calibre keepass greenshot audacity consolez foobar2000 sumatrapdf lockhunter treesizefree mp3tag owncloud-client makemkv mobaxterm gpg4win avidemux imageresizerapp musescore kindle syncback

It isn’t perfect, by any means: there is allegedly a choco install handbrake command, for example, to install the all-time-best Video transcoder, but I’ve yet to achieve a successful install with it. Nothing to stop you visiting www.handbrake.fr and downloading/installing in the traditional manner, of course, but it detracts a little from Chocolatey’s claim to simplify your software installation life.

Nevertheless, it’s a nice way to get almost everything needed to turn a fresh Windows 10 install into a usable PC… recommended!

BBC News Flash

I am a regular reader of the BBC News website, but it’s a great shame that the BBC thinks that inflicting flash on its visitors is a good idea. It isn’t. Really, it isn’t.

Ideally, the BBC techies would fully embrace HTML5 and its native abilities to play video.

And in fact, they have! They just don’t do HTML5 video if you visit them using Firefox, which also plays native HTML5 video, for reasons that passeth understanding.

So if you, like me, want to disable Flash in your Firefox browser, and yet watch BBC News videos, here’s what you need:

  • Visit this site and install the UA Control plugin
  • Visit this site and install the User Agent JS (Javascript) Fixer plugin

Restart your browser when you’re done, and with both those successfully installed, go to Firefox’s ‘Add-Ons’ console (click the hamburger menu → Add-ons) and click the Preferences menu next to the UA Control plugin:

Click the [Add Site] button and type in:

  • Site: bbc.co.uk
  • Custom: Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 5.2; Nexus 7 Build/KTU84P) AppleWebKit/540 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/46 Safari/540

Save that and repeat the same procedure to add the same Custom Agent String for site bbcimg.co.uk

Now if you visit the news.bbc.co.uk website, the BBC will think you’re running some form of Android and know to display its video wares at you using native HTML5.

Why we have to dance this particular jig in order to persuade the BBC to do the right thing, I have no idea. It’s a shame it’s needed -especially as it prevents the use of the BBC iPlayer tool (though as a non-Brit, using a Paris-based VPN, I can’t use that anyway). Hopefully, they will learn sooner rather than later: Flash is dangerous and anyone who hasn’t disabled it and/or uninstalled it is asking for trouble, and corporations that expect users to be using it in this day and age are dumber than your average bear.

If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute…

Yeah. Turns out that we are as made up in our minds about moving as the British weather is constant (i.e., not very). The property has been withdrawn from the market: we’re staying put. A particularly lovely spring day with the glorious scent of wattles and the humming of bees in the canopies of gum trees made our minds up for us.

We may still buy a near-city apartment, but it won’t be for us to live in. Honestly: our house is considered small at a mere “27 squares” (which I think means 2700 square feet in the archaic language of Australian property assessment), but I recoiled in horror at the thought of having to live in “9.8 squares”, which was a “good-sized apartment” according to the blurb. I suppose if I really looked around, I could just about squeeze my life into a third of its present existence, but I just don’t fancy having to do so. Space is a pain, because it needs cleaning; but I need room to kick around in. I think my current computer desk is about “0.5 squares” all on its own… no thanks!

Moving On…

It is with regret that I record the fact that Chandler, our 2009 swamp wallaby, is dead. She was a friendly thing, happy to pop into the house for a cup of coffee, a glass of wine (white, not red), a slice of bread or some cat food as the mood took her. She managed to pull off the remarkable trick of behaving like a pet in some respects whilst remaining, absolutely, a completely wild animal.

We don’t know for certain that she is dead, of course: there isn’t a pile of old wallaby corpses in the back paddock to confirm it, for example. But she hasn’t been seen around here for three weeks now, and for a wallaby that has been a daily visitor since early 2009, I’d say that was pretty conclusive. She’ll be missed because none of her relatives, who nevertheless still turn up nightly for something to eat, have quite acquired the desire to hop into the house. Their modus operandi is to snatch a slice of bread and hop away from the door a safe metre or two. Chandler never felt unsafe with us like that, as the photo on the left attests.

Oh well.

It is curious, perhaps, that at around the time Chandler stopped turning up, we made a rather momentous decision of our own: after twelve years’ residence here, we’re going to sell up and move somewhere closer to the center of Sydney. We more or less stumbled into this decision: we’d been planning to build a new garage and convert the existing one into a music library for me, but were wondering about whether doing so would add much value to the house. My cunning plan was to get an estate agent around to look at the place, as though we were planning to sell, and then casually ask him what he thought certain home improvements would add to sale price. He knocked us off balance by saying that we shouldn’t waste time doing anything to the house, because he could sell it right away for… some enormous sum of money that I am embarrassed to write here, so I won’t.

Suffice it to say that the eye-watering valuation persuaded us that the time to move had arrived. The neighbours have been getting a bit noisier every year; the building of 30,000 homes about 15 kilometres away has flooded our night sky with light and made galaxy-watching much harder than in times past; and recently council approved the construction of 300 new homes in a plot of land that’s only a kilometre away, over the river gorge… so noise and light pollution are just going to get worse. We haven’t fallen out of love with the place, but I fear that the place has started to develop away from us. The parting, when it comes, is probably something I’ll be glad of in a way: I would hate to stick around long enough to hate what is almost certain to become of it.

Moving back into the middle of Sydney (and we’re looking at places like Ultimo, Pitt St., George St. and Surry Hills, so pretty much within spitting distance of the central business district) is hard, of course, because the property price boom that does us such a favour when we come to sell does us absolutely no good whatsoever when we’re trying to buy! We have found some really nice apartments, only to find out that they start at something stupid, like AU$1.5 million: definitely out of our price range! When we find something we can actually afford, it is usually run-down and somewhat decrepit. We could move further afield, of course: prices start somewhere near sanity levels if you’re prepared to move 20 or more kilometres away from the CBD. But that rather defeats the purpose of the move: if we’re trying to cut our 2-hour each-way commute to trivial times, it’s the CBD or nothing really.

We have already had an offer for our place which we haven’t yet accepted; we’ve already been outbid when making offers on two different apartments we quite liked the look of. The deal isn’t yet done either way, therefore, and we might yet change our minds… but I suspect we’re both old and tired enough that we have really had it with 4 hours spent on commuting per day, and our minds will stay made up accordingly. Watch this space, I guess.

Meanwhile, Vale Chandler.

(And spot the photographer’s slippers reflected in her eye!)

Closing Windows (for good?)

I don’t mind Windows 10, on the whole. I think it’s quite ugly to look at, but it mostly doesn’t annoy me too much and lets me get actual work done. There are some privacy concerns with it, but for the most part they are probably over-blown and, if you’ve the time and inclination, can be ameliorated with a bit of digging through the OS configuration options. It’s a shame it’s all ‘opt-out’, and that your privacy is compromised from the start with all the opt-in default settings, but you can take control and sort it, if you are so inclined. Still, there are some lingering concerns, and together with the fact that it’s been at least a year since I switched operating systems, I got to thinking that it might be quite nice to let Linux back onto my desktop.

The choice of distro wasn’t hard this time: it has to be Linux Mint 17.2, largely because I liked it last time (back in version 16 days), and 17.2 was freshly-released at the end of June. The other thing going in its favour: it’s based on a Long-Term Stable release of Ubuntu (14.04), meaning that it’s supported for security patches until April 2019 and I can therefore put off the evil day when I have to deal with systemd until at least then!

Normally when I switch operating systems, I just whip out the install CD and wipe the hard drive without thinking about it too much… but I’ve been using Windows 8/8.1/10 long enough that on this occasion, I thought a bit more thoughtful preparation might be in order.

Specifically, I undertook a software audit of what I had installed on Windows and, using a virtual machine with Linux Mint 17.2 (Cinnamon) installed and tested out what replacements or equivalents I’d have to consider in each case.

Here’s the complete list of programs currently installed on my Windows 10 desktop PC, and what I think their likeliest replacements in Linux might be:

7-Zip Already built-in. Right click a file, select Compress and then choose the .7z extension. The first file you do this to requires you to select “7z” as the compression algorithm from a long list; but once you’ve compressed one file with 7z, that will be the default suggestion for future compression (unless you select an alternative algorithm in the meantime, of course, at which point that becomes the new default, until you select something else… etc ad infinitum).
Adblock Plus Available as an extension to install into Firefox, so completely OS agnostic.
Adobe Air Don’t quite know what installed this in the first place: it’s an Adobe application development framework. Seems mainly needed for the Adobe Media Player, which I don’t care about.
Adobe Captivate Used to create video screen presentations. Not something I use a lot of these days, but possible alternatives are Wink and Kazam. Kazam is in the Mint repositories; Wink has to be downloaded and compiled from the developer’s website. However, only 32-bit version of Wink is available and that won’t compile of a 64-bit Mint O/S. Kazam it is, then…
Adobe Media Player Not required. SMplayer/VLC/whatever video player and Amarok/whatever audio player I decide on will do all the media playing I could ask for.
Adobe Photoshop CS5 GIMP is the obvious alternative, but it’s nowhere near as good. This is one area Linux really suffers compared to Windows: no superb graphics editing capability. MyPaint (available in the Mint repositories) looks plausibly good as possible substitute. Lacks a lot of the powerful Photoshop stuff, of course, but looks adequate as a simple photo cropper, toucher-upper.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5.7 Darktable (in the repositories) looks possibly adequate as a replacement. Nowhere near the functionality as far as I can tell, but maybe enough for my purposes. Requires quite a bit of re-learning effort, of course.
AnyDVD Tricky. Ripping of standard DVDs is trivial in Linux. Handbrake will do it direct off disk, if the libdvdcss library is installed. Blu-Ray? Much harder: Handbrake will rip an unencoded BluRay, but how do you decode one?

MakeMKV might do the trick, though it’s not in the repositories and has to be compiled from source and isn’t free (as in zero dollars, except in beta) and it requires 100MB+ of prerequisites to be installed first, though the apt-get install command is simple enough…. Then it turns out that it’s AUD$76 after the first 70 days if you want to keep ripping BluRays. That’s pretty expensive. That said, it compiles easily enough and looks fairly functional (not yet tested with any actual recent release BluRays, though).

Could AnyDVD run under wine? (See below). Maybe running AnyDVD in a Windows virtual machine is a possibility?

Audacity Available in the repositories
Bitdefender Antivirus Clamav (available in the respositories –install clamtk to get a GUI front end, then clamav, clamav-base, clamav-daemon and clamav-freshclam )
Calibre Available in the repositories
dbPoweramp Hmmm… an entirely separate essay probably needed on this one! Wanted: a good CD ripper that can output to WMA Lossless in a tag-sensitive manner.

Soundconverter won’t do it (it’s output formats do not include WMA Lossless).

FF Multi Converter (not in the repositories, and depends on ffmpeg, so you have to add in two new ppa respositories instead) does output to lossy WMA (progress!), but not lossless (oh :-( ). It also has an alarming tendency to install old versions of Libre Office (though it will work without doing that if you don’t install unoconv). It’s lack of WMA Lossless output is probably because ffmpeg itself doesn’t support WMA Lossless.

However, bearing in mind that some 46,000 tracks from my CD collection are already ripped to WMA Lossless, you could argue that I don’t really need rip-to-WMAL functionality anyway: most of my ripping days are behind me (I hope). So, for any music acquired in the future, it will be fine to rip to FLAC. I might then batch convert using dbpoweramp in a Windows virtual machine. Or I might not: there’s no great harm in having different files in two different lossless formats… consistency is the hob-goblin of small minds, after all!

So, what’s the best ripper to FLAC that’s tag-aware? In the repositories, both Asunder and ripperx are available.

Ripperx is ghastly: ancient interface, very little track-naming or tagging capabilities. Asunder is much better. But my favourite (warranting another essay) is abcde, a cutely-named (“a better cd encoder”) command-line only tool that rips a CD with one trivial command. It’s also in the repositories, so installation is very easy. It’s output can be tweaked with something like the EasyTag tag editor.

Deluge 1.3 Bittorrent clients are ten a penny. Transmission is installed by default as part of the standard build, and is more than adequate for my purposes.
Foobar2000 Hmmmm… another Essay required. Maybe Foobar2000 under Wine? Doable, sort of (see below). Maybe Guyadeque (available in the repositories, but it can’t display album art embedded in WMA Lossless files). Maybe Amarok, which does display the embedded art but looks like it was sat on by an Ugly Hippopotamus. Banshee is the default media player and works reasonably well, in fact –plays Lossless WMA right out of the box, without the need for things like Fluendo to be installed first. And it gets the embedded album art right etc. But it’s terribly slow to scan 900GB of music: I have my doubt about how it will cope with a music library of my size.

You will conceivably have to bite the bullet and convert everything to FLAC. There is enough disk space available on the servers to keep a Lossless WMA and a FLAC version of everything, though it’s hugely wasteful.

Google Chrome Available in the repositories as chromium-browser
GpgWin For file encryption: Mint has native support for gpg (it’s already a part of a default install), though it’s all command line stuff. But a GUI is not really required anyway (even on Windows, it doesn’t add much to the party!)
Greenshot Shutter or gnome-screenshot, both available in the respositories. Shutter works very well.
Handbrake Available in the repositories.
Last.fm Scrobbler Not needed; Banshee, Amarok and Guyadeque all scrobble natively.
Lastpass Firefox plugin Available.
Mediaeval CUE Splitter Cuetools (in the repositories). Command-line only, so maybe not as straightforward, but pretty decent.
Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 LibreOffice, of course. Nowhere near as good as MS Office in some ways, but competent enough. I wouldn’t want to write documents whose format has to translate between platforms perfectly, but LO is good enough for the office work I do.

What about email? (IE, how do I replace Outlook?) Thunderbird is not in active development [by Mozilla, at least] and was never that good anyway… so how about Claws Mail (also in the repositories): it has lots of good features, including plugins like SpamAssassin and vCalendar, for email/calendar integration. It looks a bit tired and dated, but it works quite well.

Microsoft Silverlight No equivalent (and not needed, I suspect)
Assorted Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributables No equivalent (and not needed, I suspect)
MobaXterm For ssh connections, the basic terminal in Linux is fine all on its own. If you really wanted to, putty is in the repositories (!).

No really good tabbed ssh client seems to be available, however. Terminator (in the repositories) lets you easily split a single terminal window into multiple separate terminals and thus allows creating and viewing multiple ssh sessions very easy. Doesn’t help with storing ssh session details, though.

Remmina has an ssh plugin and can do tabbed SSH sessions, but I couldn’t get it to connect to one of my servers: every time I tried, it complained that the public key had been changed, and would never actually attempt to make a connection. Maybe worth pursuing and trying to get properly sorted.

Mp3Tag Easytag (in the repositories. It’s interface is not as comfortable to me, but it is capable of using tag data to rename and move files to appropriate folders. However (and it’s a biggie!)… it doesn’t work with WMA Lossless files. Does Mp3Tag itself work under Wine? See below.
MuseScore Available in the repositories
Notepad++ Scite. Despite the name, it’s perfect (and in the repositories).
Oracle VirtualBox Available in the repositories
ownCloud client Available in the repositories
PL/SQL Developer SQL Developer is cross-platform and free, but PL/SQL Developer can be made to work under Wine.
Samsung Magician A tarball of Samsung Magician is available from here. Haven’t yet played with it… not clear if it is kept up-to-date.

See also: http://jcutrer.com/howto/linux/samsung-magician-command-line-linux

Note that the command line tool does NOT do Rapid Mode, but does allow firmware to be updated.

Also, read: http://techreport.com/review/25282/a-closer-look-at-rapid-dram-caching-on-the-samsung-840-evo-ssd/6 …which strongly implies that Rapid Mode is rather less to sing and dance about than first appears… so not being able to do it under Linux might not be a bad idea!

Stellarium Available in the repositories
SumatraPDF Evince. There’s even an Adobe reader available for Linux (though I wouldn’t use it)
SyncBackSE Tricky. rsynch is the obvious candidate, but it’s hard to set up and get working perfectly. There are GUIs for rsync, too, but none of the ones I’ve used have been spectacular. Short answer: rsynch, but there’s a learning curve.
TrueCrypt Not available in the repositories and you’re not supposed to find it elsewhere either, as the developers have declared that all development of the tool is finished. Linux does encrypted file systems natively, though (I’m thinking of LUKS), so whole-disk encryption is pretty straightforward without TrueCrypt. Encrypting individual files… that’s what gpg is for.
WinSCP Filezilla (available in the repositories)

You’ll notice a number of references to “will I be able to get the software working under Wine” in that lot, so here are my detailed answers:

  1. Does Foobar2000 work well under it: yes, but it doesn’t understand WMA Lossless. Plays FLAC perfectly well, though. Banshee plays FLAC and WMA Lossless equally well, mind (as do most other Linux players mentioned, such as Amarok and Guyadeque), so although it’s a plausible program to run under Wine, I don’t believe there’s actually much utility in doing so.
  2. Does Mp3Tag work well under it: yes, but it doesn’t understand WMA Lossless files and their tags. (Neither does EasyTag). Feed it a FLAC file, however, and it copes just fine. Doesn’t display very nicely (nothing under Wine does!). I think that mastering EasyTag is the more productive way to go here.
  3. AnyDVD doesn’t work under the Wine supplied in the Mint package manager. It installs OK, but attempting to launch it simply brings up an error message: Failed to init ElbyCDIO. There are no workarounds as far as I can tell.
  4. It is apparently true that you can run Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CS5 on Linux under Wine. See, for example, http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/linux-and-open-source/how-to-install-adobe-photoshop-cs5-on-linux-with-wine/ as a description of how to get Photoshop working in Wine, rather torturously as far as I can tell! See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmqNx1dEtVM for proof that Lightroom on Mint is possible with Wine… though I note that the instructions on how to do it are a bit thin on the ground, it was only tested with Linux Mint 17, only works with Lightroom 5.0 or earlier, doesn’t work with Linux Mint KDE and so on and on. I think using these tools under Wine looks to be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s not like I actually use more than about 10% of the functionality of these programs anyway, to be honest. ToH’s a different proposition, though…

Summing all that up, then: there are a satisfyingly large number of programs which work exactly as-is on both Windows and Linux. No learning curve there at all. Things like Stellarium, Handbrake, Firefox, Chrome, Calibre, Audacity and MuseScore are all truly cross-platform.

Many programs have equivalents which, to one degree or another, lack a bit of functionality -or have loads more functionality than their Windows’ equivalents, but at the cost of a learning curve (of various degrees of steepness). Notepad++ ↔ Scite, for example; or Lightroom ↔ Darktable, MS Office ↔ LibreOffice, Mp3Tag ↔ EasyTag and Captivate ↔ Kazam.

In some areas, though, the “equivalents” are profoundly different and require entirely new work flows. I’m thinking of how abcde rips CDs like dbPowerAmp can do, and even has rudimentary tagging and album art embedding capabilities, but as a command line tool is profoundly different from the point-and-click world of dbPowerAmp. Not only do they behave differently, abcde is not going to allow tag editing before ripping in the effortless way that dbPowerAmp does, so whereas I can often rip a CD currently and get all the tags and embedded album art completely right from the start, with abcde I’m definitely going to have to use EasyTag in a separate step to clean up the tags and get the album art correct. It’s not impossible to do in Linux what I currently do in Windows, for example, but the work flows will be completely different.

That leaves one or two areas where there simply aren’t real alternatives and no amount of re-thinking one’s work flows will get you an equivalent capability. I’m thinking of graphics: Gimp is no replacement for Photoshop, though it might do in a pinch if all I want to do is a quick picture crop or simple touch-up. The matter therefore really becomes one of questioning the assumption that you need a specific set of capabilities in the first place. Can one, instead, live without?

In my case, I am no photo virtuoso, so do I really need Photoshop’s capabilities? Would a much less capable program still let me do what I do? And even if I do occasionally use capabilities that only Photoshop provides, perhaps the question to ask is then: would running it in a Windows Virtual Machine prove adequate? (Because faffing around with Wine seems in all cases more trouble than it’s worth).

One of the more obvious of these “no go” areas is anything to do with WMA Lossless audio. Playing it is fine: Banshee even does it out of the box, no need for Fluendo. But none of the encoders can produce it; many of the players can’t play it; and EasyTag will have no truck with it at all. At this point again, I have to ask myself whether I really need WMA Lossless encoding capability (not sure!); whether I could live with old files as WMA Lossless and new ones as FLAC (probably); or whether I could just switch entirely to using FLAC (requires more thought). There are ways around the issue, therefore; I just have to work out what suits me best.

Watch this space, I guess.

Meanwhile, putting all of that into a single “install everything in one hit” command results in this:

sudo apt-get install kazam mypaint darktable handbrake wine winbind audacity clamtk clamav clamav-base clamav-daemon clamav-freshclam calibre abcde chromium-browser shutter cuetools evolution terminator remmina easytag musescore scite owncloud-client virtualbox-nonfree stellarium filezilla grsync luckybackup aisleriot gnome-games gcstar openconnect network-manager-openconnect-gnome gparted

Oracle on Linux Mint 17.2

I am casting my eyes around for a new desktop operating system (yet again!). I’m currently running Windows 10, and whilst it’s OK, there are some privacy issues I have concerns about. So, though I’m happy-ish with the current status quo, I am doing some experiments on the side for an alternative.

Linux Mint is right up there with the best of them as a suitable desktop OS. In the past, I’ve run Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), but this time I thought I’d take the ‘standard’ version for a run: it’s based on Ubuntu.

Of course, getting Oracle 12c running on any form of non-Red Hat/non-CentOS distro can be tricky, and although my old Gladstone script used to automate it for a number of ‘peripheral’ distros, I haven’t maintained it for a while.

So I’ve written a new automation script, stripping out a lot of the complexity from the original gladstone script in the process. The new script configures a fresh 64-bit Linux Mint 17.2 desktop for an Oracle 64-bit database installation, making the user that runs it the “oracle user” and owner of the resulting Oracle software installation. By running it, a “linking-error-fix.sh” script is written to the user’s desktop, for later use at the point when the Oracle software installation starts to throw up linking errors.

Installing Oracle on LM17.2 thus becomes a matter of downloading and unpacking the software from Oracle and the oracleonmint.sh script from me, double-clicking the shell script and supplying the root password and waiting for a lot of prerequisite software to be downloaded from the standard Linux Mint repositories. When that’s all finished, you’ll be prompted to reboot.

Once your PC is back up and running, you just launch Oracle’s own runInstaller as usual, click [Next] lots of times, and wait for the inevitable linking errors to occur once the installer tries to build Oracle binaries.

At that point, you just double-click the linking-error-fix.sh script that should be sitting on your desktop, click [Retry] in the Oracle installer …and wait for the installation and database creation process to complete. Update: There’s now a full-blown article documenting what you do, step by step.

No messing around with editing various obscure compiler files by hand: just run the first shell script to create the second; and run the second when the Oracle installer throws up its first linking error.

I’m running out of prime ministers these days, so this new script doesn’t have a fancy name. It’s just my “Oracle on Mint” script :-) It has been tested on all three of the Cinnamon, Mate and KDE versions of Linux Mint 17.2. There are no differences in how it runs on any of them.

Whether or not I do end up ditching Windows 10 for LM17.2, I can’t yet say: but being able to run Oracle on LM17.2 certainly makes the idea of a transition a whole lot more feasible.