Monday, December 29, 2008

Getting Virtual with VirtualBox

Until recently all of my VM projects had been done in VMWare Server, as this version is available as a free download from VMWare. After upgrading my Linux Box to Ubuntu 8.10 I needed to reload my VM software but I was having some issues getting VMWare server to install correctly. Not wanting to spend a lot of time trying to get the software to work and aware that other options are available I started looking around and found VirtualBox.

VirtualBox is an open source VM software that is available free for download for Windows, Linux, Macintosh and OpenSolaris from Sun Microsystems. The current version is 2.1.0. The VirtualBox website has packages for the following Linux distributions and many packages are available for both i386 and AMD64 architectures.

  • Ubuntu 8.10 ("Intrepid Ibex")
  • Ubuntu 8.04 LTS ("Hardy Heron")
  • Ubuntu 7.10 ("Gutsy Gibbon")
  • Ubuntu 6.06 LTS ("Dapper Drake")
  • Debian 5.0 ("Lenny")
  • Debian 4.0 ("Etch")
  • Debian 3.1 ("Sarge")
  • openSUSE 11.1
  • openSUSE 11.0
  • openSUSE 10.3
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 (SLES10)
  • Fedora 9 ("Sulphur") / 10 ("Cambridge")
  • Fedora 8 ("Werewolf")
  • Fedora 7 ("Moonshine")
  • Mandriva 2008.0
  • Mandriva 2007.1
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 ("RHEL5")
  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 ("RHEL4")
  • PCLinuxOS 2007
  • Xandros Desktop 4.1
  • All distributions

As I am using Ubuntu 8.10 I downloaded the i368 deb package and installed it on my system. The install was very straightforward and did not require and special installation steps other than logging off and logging on again to get the program to appear in the Applications -> System Tools menu.

Coming from a VMWare background, getting started with VirtualBox was a snap. Setting up a new virtual machine is done very easily using the provided wizard and has all of the common configuration items. New VMs can be install directly from the ISO image without the need to burn a CD or DVD.

Virtualization is a great way to test out new Linux versions or to learn the internal workings of a Linux distro without reloading your primary machine. If you are interested in getting into virtualization at home and are looking for a good open source solution, VirtualBox may be the way to go.

Linux CLI for fun: du

One of the best things about Linux is the power of the Command Line Interface (CLI). Many new Linux users making the transition from either Windows or Mac to Linux may have difficulty getting away from the GUI method of doing things and into the CLI but there are times when the CLI is the only way to perform a particular task or just the fastest way. The only way to get proficient in the CLI is to open up a terminal and get some practice.

A good example of a CLI command that is very useful is the du command. I am always interested in how much disk space a particular file or folder is taking on my hard drive. This is especially important to know when writing data to removable media that is limited in size such as a CD or DVD. There is a GUI method which is to select the view that shows the details of files and folders but the only the size of the files is show and not the folders in a particular directory. What if I want to know the size of a bunch of folders in a directory and what if I want that information in a text file for later use.

The du command is a great tool for doing this and only takes a few seconds to use. Just cd to the directory that you want to get information on and type du. Actually it is not that easy as the display you get is the size of each and every file in the directory and every sub directory. Since this very is not very effective, lets break this down a little more.

First you can add a file or directory name to the du command to only find out the size a that particular file or directory. For example du thefile will give me the size of the file named thefile. The size is listed in KB but since there are no tags or legend this is not readily apparent. To fix this add the -h argument to the command so the line would look like du -h thefile.

Next when looking at folders, if you only want to so the total size of the parent folder and not have the sub directories listed, add the -s argument to the command so the line would look like du -hs thedirectory.

There are many more arguments for the du command that can be found in the man pages but -h and -s are the most commonly used. Listed below are some additional uses for the command

du -sh ./ - shows the size of the current directory in human readable format without listing any sub directories
du -sh * > outputfile - shows the size of the files and directories in the current directory in human readable format without listing any sub directories directory and sends the output to a file.
du -sh * | grep something - shows the size of the files and directories in the current directory in human readable format without listing any sub directories directory and only lists files or directories with something in the name

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Family Christmas Trip to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka

For Christmas this year, I decided to take my kids to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) in Osaka, Japan. We live in southern Japan and Osaka is only a 2 hour flight so it makes more sense for us to go to USJ vice flying all the way to Los Angeles.

I have never been to any Universal Studios park so I have no basis on which to judge the park in Japan against the parks in the US. I have read, however, that the Japan park is smaller than the parks in the US.

We arranged a package deal through a travel agent in our local city that included air fare, hotel, and park tickets, but not transportation from the airport to the park so we were on our own. There are two options for getting from the airport to the park, the first is the train and the second is a bus. My original idea was to take the bus but I am real fan of the Japanese train systems so I opted for the train once we arrive in Osaka. To get to the train just follow the signs for the train to the JR station that is right outside the entrance to the airport. Be sure to go to the JR station. There is another train that is a local train and will not get you to where you want to go. The cost to get from the airport to "Universal City", which is the train station at USJ is about 1200 yen per person and takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes. You will also have to change trains on the way. Even though I have lived in Japan for 15 years, speak the language, and am familiar with the Japanese train system I had a little trouble figuring out how to purchase the train tickets. There was a very nice station attendant that helped us purcahse our tickets and we were on our way. The first leg of the train trip takes about 1 hour to Nishikujoo where you will have to chnage trains. The announcements are in Japanese and English so figuring out which is the correct stop is not difficult. When you exit the train at Nishikujoo you do not have to go far to get the next train, only about 5-10 feet to the other side of the platform. If you look at the signs it will list Universal City as the destination. The next train is only about 5 minutes and Universal City is the second stop.

When you exit the train you will be in what is know as Univeral City, which is a not a city but a shopping, resturant, and hotel district setup to service customers going to Univeral Studios. We had reservations at one of the hotels in Universak City and it was only about 100 steps from the train station exit. In Univeral City there are numerous resturants such as McDonalds, Mos Burger, Hard Rock Cafe, as well as many Japanese resturants. There are also a number of shops to buy souviners as well as a convience store. Things such as water, food, and other items purcahsed in Univiersal City are much cheaper than items purcahsed in the park. for example a coke purchased at the convience store will run about 150 yen but the same coke in the park will run 250 yen. Univeral City is only 2 minutes walking distance away from the park so it is very wasy to go back to the hotel or to the store and avoid the higher prices in the park.

The hotel we stayed at was the Keihan Universal City. I am not a big fan of most Japanese hotels although I have stayed in some really nice ones. This hotel was clean and warm with just the basics necessary. The beds were too hard and the pillows to small but since our goal was not to spend too much time in the hotel I did not mind too much. The room came with a free buffet breakfast every morning which is exactly like the free buffet breakfast I have had at every other Japanese hotel I have ever stayed at. There must be a national buffet breakfast menu that ever hotel goes off of.

We had two options on our package deal. We could have done a 1.5 day ticket or a 2 days ticket. The 1.5 day ticket is good the day of arrival ater 3 PM and the second day only. The 2 day ticket is good for the second and third day. I opted for the 2 day ticket, which turned out to be a good thing as it rained the first night we arrived. Check the weather before you go and I would suggest buying some cheap over sized parkas that you can slip over your clothes when it starts to rain. A parka at the park will cost 1000 yen when you can get the same item at at 100 yen store.

USJ is a very clean and well organized park. I did not need a map to get around as everything is marked in Japanese and English with signs all over the place pointing you in the right direction. There is only 1 roller coster in the park but there are several other rides that the kids liked as well. Some of our favorites were Spider Man, Back to the Future, Jurasic Park, Jaws, and the roller coaster. ET was okay and back draft too forever to get to the main part which was too short in my opinion but worth seeing once. There are also a lot of shows to see as well. We liked Water World, Wicked, and the Rock and Roll Monster Show. There was also a Peter Pan show that was only played at night which was nice. There were a number of other shows that we did not have time to see or that the kids wanted to skip as the shows were geared toward the younger kids.

Overall we had a great trip. Like everything in Japan it was expensive but I have grown accustomed to that.

Once more word of advice. On the return train tip to the airport make sure you sit in one of the first four cars of the train. Just before the train gets to the airport the train will split in half with the first four cars going to the airport and the back four cars going somewhere else.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is Linux really 'holding back the kids'?

When I read the article at about a teacher claiming that Linux is holding back kids and that Windows is a better alternative, I could not believe what I was reading.

It is obvious that the teacher quoted in the article is not up-to-speed with the current status of Linux in the computing world. A majority of super computers use Linux, most of the web servers on the Internet use Linux, and the list goes on.

There are many reasons why Linux is a good operating system to learn but here is my take on the subject. Linux should be a mandatory learning experience for kids, especially kids interested in the IT industry as a career. Much like the learning the basic building blocks for an good education by learning the 2+2=4 and that i comes before e accept after c, learning Linux can provide a life long skill set to an aspiring child that will serve them well throughout their IT life.

When I first learned about Linux it was because my company was sending me to a class to learn UNIX. We were about to get some UNIX workstations and my boss wanted me to have a basic understanding of UNIX. When I got to the class the instructor told us that he would be using Linux, RedHat to be exact, to teach us the basics as at the CLI level almost everything was the same.

Once my class was over I was sent back out into the IT world with my new skill set in UNIX/Linux commands. Little did I know that the basic building blocks I learned in the Linux class would serve me so well in the years to come.

The first thing I noticed when I returned to work was that I had a new fascination with the CLI, even in Windows. Being a Windows users from a very early age I had been infused with the thinking that if it was not in the GUI then it did not exist. I soon learned that even in Windows there are some very powerful tools available only in the CLI and many of the tools were "borrowed" from the UNIX side of the house. When I started getting into networking and was asked to learn how to use Cisco products I was again amazed to find that my UNIX/Linux training paid off as the Cisco IOS is UNIX based and best done through the CLI. When I purchased my daughter a MacBook so she could make video and music projects I was pleased to find that my UNIX/Linux training paid off again as the Mac is UNIX based and the CLI uses most of the same commands. At home I run a mixed environment of Windows, OS X, and Linux and the ability to make all three operating systems work together makes me a more marketable IT person, in my humble opinion. I tell all people that I meet aspiring to enter the IT field to learn Linux, at least the basics, as it will serve them well.

I submit that instead of holding kids back, Linux opens up a whole new world of opportunity. Here is a theoretically example. Let's say that company X is hiring new IT employees and has a limited budget. Company X runs a mixed environment of Windows desktops for the majority of the employees, OS X for the marketing, A/V, and public affairs department, and a mixture of Linux and Windows in the server room. Actually sounds like a lot of real companies. Company X gets a bunch of resumes and starts to weed them out. Do you think Company X wants to hire a Windows only employee, an OS X only employee, and a Linux only employee or an employee that can do all three?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Giving KDE a second chance

When I first started using Linux about 6 years ago, I did not even use any GUI. I preferred to run my Linux as a headless server providing web and other service and connecting from my Windows box via SSH. About 2 years ago, however, I started tying to use Linux as my main desktop. I started using Red Hat, then switched to Debian, tried several other versions along the way, and eventually ended up using Ubuntu. Somewhere along the way KDE fell out of favor with me and I became a Gnome user. It was not love at first site with Gnome, it was something that transpired over several different versions of Linux OS loads. I just kind of liked the simple feel of Gnome.

Now just I am definitely an adventurous person and I like to try new things. I regularly download several different versions of Linux and try each one in a VM just to see what the latest and greatest is in the Linux world. Along the way I have run into a few KDE desktops and usually load the Kubuntu desktop packages on my Ubuntu machines. But I never really got a good feeling for KDE, that is, until yesterday.

I have been reading alot on the Internet about the problems with KDE 4.0 and that 4.1 and now 4.2 made great improvements so I deciede to give KDE a second chance. Since I use Ubuntu I just loaded the kubuntu-desktop packages and switched sessions. I do a lot of photography and I have a saying that I can look at a picture I have taken for about 1-2 seconds and tell if it is a keeper or not. I just clear my mind, look at the picture, and see if it affects me in anyway or tells me a story. I used the same technique with the KDE 4.1 desktop and to my surprise is past the test. I really like the layout of the desktop and the feel of the whole setup from the icons to the color schemes. I have not had a chance to play with all of the customizable functions of the desktop yet but I find the choices available be very appealing.

The only problem that I found so far is that Firefox, my preferred browser, do not look to good in KDE. I did some research and found a couple of fixes that make the browser look a little better but it will do for now.

I think I am going to give KDE a go for a while and see what happens.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Is Linux ready for the average user? My wife thinks so

In the beginning, as we all know, Linux was an OS that was limited to those of us who had the time and patience to spend all night getting things to work. As the OS has progressed the user friendliness of the OS has increased dramatically. Now here we sit on the cusp of 2009 and there are numerous mainstream vendors such as ASUS, Dell, and HP offering pre-loaded Linux desktops and laptops, which brings me to my story.

My wife has been asking me for a small form laptop that she can use to access the Internet, check e-mail, type some documents, look at some pictures and listen to some music, which is what most average users do. Up until now small form laptops were very expensive but products such as the ASUS eeePC brought the price down to levels I was willing to pay. I actually purchased an ASUS eeePC for my wife but quickly sold it, another post for later, and purchased a Dell Mini 9 as soon as I saw the ad on the Dell web site.

Now to say that my wife is computer challenged is putting is nicely. She has killed more than a few of my computers over the years, mostly Windows. So it was with some trepidation that I ordered her Dell Mini 9 with Ubuntu. I have been an Ubuntu users for almost 2 years now so I felt confident the OS had matured to the point that I could get my wife using it without too much problem. So I took the plunge and ordered the PC.

We have had the Dell Mini 9 now for about 3 weeks. I set the PC up for her, added the Japanese character input as my wife is Japanese, set the OpenOffice default type to .doc so she can send docs to her friends, and set up the network printer and then let her have at it. In the 3 weeks we have had the laptop she has not had one single complaint. Everything works just fine.

So is Linux ready for the average user. My wife sure thinks so and if I can get my wife to use Linux without complaint, I can get anyone to use Linux.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I am getting a SUP!

I finally broke down and after a year of waiting I am finally getting a SUP, Stand Up Paddle board. I have decided on the Laird Hamilton Soft Top 11'6" model. I will post more once I get the board and learn how to use it. I can not wait, a new hobby!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Getting Rid of Windows at Home

Well after several years of trying I have finally got rid of all Windows OS machines at my house. While this might sound like an easy task, let me assure you that it was not. I am not an anti-Windows person but I just do not like the OS, especially Vista. Windows is just too bloated, slow, and costs too much.

I work in the IT field and can be considered to be a moderately experienced user. I have been using Linux for almost 6 years and have been trying to get rid of the Windows OS from my house for about the last 3 years. I have a wife and two kids, which complicated the problem as I have to satisfy everyone in the house.

At first I started using Linux as a hobby. I was fascinated by the free nature of Linux and quickly realized the potential of the OS but at the time Linux did not meet all of my home computing needs. Over the years I have always maintained a Linux box of some sort. At times I have tried a dual boot machine, a dedicated server, and running VMWare, both ways, Windows as the host and Linux as the guest and vice versa. No matter how hard I tried I just could not get all of my tasks onto Linux. Sure there were ways to get things done in Linux but sometimes the tasks were just too cumbersometo do in Linux, such as editing a video, or just did not work such as using iTunes.

Let me just say that I did not go with a 100% Linux solution. I got my daughter a MacBook for her birthday. She likes to make videos and the Mac is by far the best OS I have seen for makeing videos. So I get to lean on the Mac for some taks such as using iTunes andmaking videos. With now sellings mp3 files on their site, however, my use of iTunes has been reduced dramatically. There was a slight learning curve for my daughter and me on the use of the Mac so I took the Mac on a month long family vacationand forced everyone to get used to it and now everyone loves the thing.

With my daughter now off of Windows it was time for my wife. Of all the users in my house my wife is the least demanding. She just needs Internet access, e-mail, and the ability to look at pictures. She had been hinting to me that she wanted her own laptop, the kids are always on the two laptops in the house, and she wanted a really small and portable machine. Enter the Asus Eeepc, more on this later. It took me a litle while to get the Eeepc set up for my wife, she needs to input Japanese characters and wants to watch movies but after everything was working she is happy.

The last and finally tasks I need to do is DVD ripping, legal DVD ripping of course. I get DVD's from family and friends with videos and pictures and I like to put them in mp4 format so I can put them on my iPod. After much trial and error I finally got that piece worked out with the use of HandbreakCLI, again more on that later.

So now as I sit here that is no longer a Windows OS machine in my house. Well actually my sons laptop is technically a dual boot machine but that is only because I have no had time to wipe the Windows partition out.

I still have to use Windows at work, but as least I have a sanctuary at home :-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Watching US TV programs overseas the legal way

I have been living in Japan for 15 years and even though I love the Japanese culture and spend time each day studying Japanese I still like to watch the occasional US TV show. I do not like to download shows illegally so I used to get many of my shows via iTunes until some of my favorite shows such as The Office disappeared from their catalog.

I thought all was lost until I found out that many US TV companies provide their shows for free on their web sites or through sites like But alas all was not well as the TV companies only provide content to US IP addresses.

Enter the world of VPN. I have know about VPN technology for some time as I work in the IT field but it was only recently that I learned of companies providing VPN services to the general public. For those of you not in the know VPN stands for Virtual Private Network as it basically allows 2 computers to set up a secure channel of communcation. Most VPNs are from a client computer to a VPN server. Companies use VPNs to allow their workers to access the corporate network from home on on the rode. When a user connects their computer to the VPN their computer gets an IP address from the corporate network and can access resources just like they were in the office.

There are now Internet based companies that provide VPN service to protect personal computer communications at public wireless access points. When ever you connect a computer to a public wireless access point such as at an airport, much of the traffic is sent in the clear including usernames and passwords. By using a VPN users can encrypt their Internet traffic and protect their information from hackers that are listening in to the wireless traffic. Many of these companies are US based and provide US IP addresses to their customers.

Now to how this helps me. By loading the VPN software and paying my annual fee I can create a VPN connection via my ISP in Japan and get a US IP address for all of my Internet traffic. Now when I go to a site that provides legal free TV content to US customers the videos will play.

The VPN company I use is Check them out and give it a try.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Welcome to my blog

This is my first post in my new blog.