On a Jaunt

In February 2008, I wiped Windows XP off my HP 510 laptop and replaced it with Kubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon). After two system upgrades, one major desktop environment upgrade and a lot of questionable software installations, I thought it was time to clear out the cruft and do a clean install of the latest and greatest Kubuntu, 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope). This is my story . . . .


Getting MIDI to work

As I do find myself typesetting music from time to time, it's useful to have MIDI capability in order to aurally check for mistakes. This time, I wanted to see if might be possible to set up MIDI without messing around with JACK and real time kernels.

I'd already installed Fluidsynth and QSynth from my previous installation. In order to set up QSynth again, I downloaded the Fluid soundfonts from the repositories, and told Qsynth where to find them. I also told it to use the ALSA sequencer and audio driver; however, it only made a farting noise until I also told it an 'audio device'. After a bit of searching, it turns out it wanted a hardware address for my sound card. To find this out, I did this at the console:

aplay -l

and it told me

**** List of PLAYBACK Hardware Devices ****
card 0: ICH6 [Intel ICH6], device 0: Intel ICH [Intel ICH6]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 0: ICH6 [Intel ICH6], device 4: Intel ICH - IEC958 [Intel ICH6 - IEC958]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

which apparently means that I have to put 'hw:0' in the audio device box. This meant I could now hear actual midi playback, though it is a bit crackly.

KMid has been dropped in Jaunty, and there doesn't seem to be a direct replacement, so for economy I chose the command-line tool pmidi until I find something better.

Actually, it turns out WildMidi gives me non-crackly midi with no fuss whatsoever. Hurrah.


Having gone through the upgrade process with my work laptop, I decided to bite the bullet and sort out my home laptop.


Ever since I heard about it on the Ubuntu UK podcast, I've been using rsnapshot to back up my laptop. I only back up those areas that can't be recreated simply by reinstalling the operating system, specifically: /etc/, /home/, /opt/ and /usr/local/. In theory, this should be enough. However, there were a couple of other things I needed to do:

  • Save a list of my installed packages for later reference:

    dpkg --get-selections > $HOME/Data/installed-packages
  • Back up the MySQL database I use for the Crafts section of the site. For this I used MySQL administrator, because I like GUIs.

So apart from doing one last backup, that was pretty much it.

Installing Kubuntu 9.04 from the Alternate CD

It took me a few goes to get this right. The first time through I tried out the hdparm options, but these prevented the cdrom from being mounted properly, and although I persisted it wasn't going to work. The second time through I chose encrypted Logical Volume Manager (LVM), but then when I realized this meant typing in my rather substantial password at every boot, then having to type in my other password to login, I thought better of it. So, I went through the install a third time to choose ordinary LVM. By this time, I'd settled on the options I was selecting, and flew through the installation in about 40 minutes. (I can see why they offer an easy install, as the 'expert' install is utterly bewildering.) Grub 2 looks very swish, by the way.

I'm pleased to report that the laptop booted with no fuss, and KDE 4.2 does seem to be running better on it than KDE 4.1 did.

Restoring software

The first thing I did was restore the third-party package repositories I'd been using. The easiest thing to do was look at my backed-up copy of /etc/apt/sources.list and enter them all again using the KPackageKit GUI, remembering to substitute 'jaunty' for 'intrepid'. I could also import all the GPG keys using the gui and my backed-up copy of /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.

The second thing I did was get a list of the packages installed for a clean installation.

dpkg --get-selections > $HOME/Data/clean-install

Then I compared what I had now and what I had before:

diff clean-install installed-packages > custom-install

With a bit of regular expression magic it was possible to strip out the line markers, packages that I had previously deselected, and packages new to my Jaunty installation. I then went through the list manually and picked out the packages I knew I wanted and put them in a new file, extra-packages. To install them all in one go, I did this:

sudo dpkg --set-selections < extra-packages
sudo apt-get dselect-upgrade

Network problems

I'd been doing all this using an ethernet cable to my router, but it was time to get the wireless working. The only problem was that, as I use WPA2, the new Network Manager plasmoid won't play nicely, but after a bit of searching I found the magic incantation:

sudo iwconfig <wlan device> essid <my essid>

I have to do this every time I login, and it takes a while but eventually Network Manager kicks in and connects. It'll do for now.

Restoring data

With rsnapshot, restoring files is a simple matter of copying them from the backup to where you want them, so hurrah for that. I decided to copy over only the settings it would be painful to redo from scratch, like my browser and games profiles.

Restoring Kontact

Luckily I only use Kontact for newsfeeds and the calendar, so restoring functionality was quite easy: just a matter of copying over my backed up copies of $HOME/.kde/share/apps/akregator and $HOME/.kde/share/apps/korganizer.

Restoring my local server

As mentioned elsewhere, I run a webserver on my laptop for generating this site and for playing around with PHP. Getting everything working again took a lot longer than I would have liked, but for future reference what I did was:

  1. Back up the existing /etc/apache2/sites-available/default file, then edit it to that it points to $HOME/Public instead of /var/www.
  2. Make $HOME/Public 'executable' (navigable) by all users, so the webserver can see it.
  3. Copy across to /etc/apache2/sites-available/ the file I had previously written to define virtual hosts for the dynamic and static local versions of this site, and make a soft link to it from /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/.
  4. Add lines to /etc/hosts to register the two new virtual hosts with the local DNS.

I think that's all I'm going to do today, but still on the cards to sort out:

  • I need to sort out a package manager for LaTeX. The Debian/Ubuntu packagers for TeXLive are rather sniffy about letting it manage its own TeX packages on a one-by-one basis, despite the fact that:
    1. it means you only have to download the packages you want;
    2. you get updates a darn sight quicker.
    so they're sticking with TeXLive 2007, which doesn't manage packages. The really frustrating thing is that the excellent Kile TeX editor brings most of it in anyway. So I have to choose between redundantly installing a personal copy of TeXLive 2008 (which does manage packages) or installing the rather more slender MiKTeX Tools, which I may have trouble getting to integrate without a lot of the messy hacking I'm trying to avoid this time round.
  • I used to have a problem on this laptop of keys randomly 'sticking', but in the software rather than the hardware. I did find a way to fix this, but for the life of me I can't remember how. This is a shame because it has started happening again.


I'm using my work laptop for the first time since the upgrade, and I can't believe how slow it is, especially as Jaunty ws supposed to be faster. A look around the forums shows that I'm not the only one with this problem, and it's probably to do with having an Intel graphics card. I'm following the advice on the Kubuntu forums. Uninstalling the i740 driver definitely helped, but not quite enough.


I decided to upgrade my work laptop from the CD first, on the basis that it's the least scary of the upgrades to do. The whole process went through in 40 minutes; it was smooth apart from a daemon crashing, but that usually happens. But then I found I couldn't login; well, it would log me in, but then immediately log me out again. I made use of the recovery boot option for the first time, but it was very difficult to see what was going on because dbus wasn't playing and I was getting a lot of errors from apt because texlive-common refused to configure properly. After much frantic investigation, it turned out what I had to do to solve the first two problems was (in the root recovery console):

aptitude reinstall dbus libpam-runtime

The problem with texlive-common was that it had installed /etc/texmf/updmap.d/00updmap.cfg as a soft link to a non-existent file. Luckily my home laptop had a real 00updmap.cfg, so I copied that over, ran:

dpkg --configure -a

and everything was fine.


I officially have more bandwidth than sense. I just realised this morning that the LVM install options are on the Alternate install CD, not the Desktop (live) install CD. Grr. And of course, the Alternate install CD lets you upgrade version 8.10 installations as well, so that would have saved me some download time upgrading my work laptop. (Not sure if I can use the Kubuntu CD to upgrade a Ubuntu machine − I'd hope it can, and use the 'Net for the missing packages, but I won't be surprised if not.)

So, now I'm starting again with the torrent for the Alternate CD. I currently see eleven peers, and the data are coming down at 3-4kB/s. Which would mean a wait of about two days, were it not for the magical midnight effect. I do hope people keep seeding the file till then . . . .


Apparently 10% of the CD came down between 5pm and midnight, and the rest between midnight and 2am. Don't you just love the dynamics of Web traffic?


Jaunty release day!

I usually wait a little while for the network to quieten down before grabbing the latest release, but that's because I usually upgrade using the upgrade tool rather than reinstalling. This time, however, I'm getting the install CD image straightaway. One of the great things about BitTorrent is that it actually works better when lots of people are clamouring for the same file, as it means there are more people online sharing what they have of it at the same time. But, even so, it's coming down really s-l-o-w-l-y.

Since I last did a clean install, there have been a number of new developments of which only fresh installers can take advantage. This is another reason – apart from the whole KDE3-KDE4 switching mess and concern about what I might have done to my system trying to get it to do things it wasn't comfortable with – to start again from scratch. (In case you're wondering, I will be installing KDE4: I'm a sucker for eye candy.) This time round, I'm seriously considering:

  • getting an encrypted home partition (uncontentious);
  • using Logical Volume Manager to sort of virtualize my hard disk space (Highly impressive, though possibly not quite as useful on a laptop as on a machine where you could actually, you know, add drives and stuff. Unless you can get worthwhile PCMCIA drives now. There was also an issue that LVM used to block the use of write barriers − apparently barriers stop hard disk data getting corrupted in system crashes − but a) they're off by default anyway, and b) apparently it was solved in SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2, so maybe it's solved in Ubuntu too by now?);
  • using the brand new and shiny ext4 file system (it's apparently much faster than ext3, but there was a problem with delayed allocation and zero-length files, causing some people to lose data here and there – I hope this is sorted now).