Adventures in GPS

I have been in need of a new GPS receiver for a while.  While I love my Garmin eTrex and it has been a lifesaver on several occasions, the netbook lacks serial ports.  Carrying a serial to USB adapter is out of the question.  I wanted ultra-portability for my kit, especially on vacations and while traveling. Whatever solution I came up with, I knew from previous experience what package would need to be installed first:

sudo apt-get install gpsd

Enter this device:


No brand name, no fancy package.  I plugged it in and it functioned beautifully.  Ubuntu detects it as a Prolific PL2303 USB to Serial Bridge Controller as revealed by dmesg:

[  950.076139] usb 2-2: new full speed USB device using uhci_hcd and address 3
[  950.242660] usb 2-2: configuration #1 chosen from 1 choice
[  950.246324] pl2303 2-2:1.0: pl2303 converter detected
[  950.271393] usb 2-2: pl2303 converter now attached to ttyUSB0

That last line is important.  I needed it to issue the next command:

gpsd /dev/ttyUSB0

As this device lacks a screen to indicate satellite fix, my next step was to install xgps:

sudo apt-get install gpsd-clients

I mostly use xgps for testing connectivity.  It is a very basic interface with limited information.  Pretty useless for navigation unless you work with satellites all day and know where they are supposed to be in the sky.

Eight years ago when I started experimenting with laptops and gps, I quickly found GPSdrive.  It was really the only map-based GPS software available.  Recently, using a netbook’s small 16:9 screen became a major problem when I realized the application wasn’t written for the Gnome toolkit.  I was unable to maximize to my screen resolution of 1024×600, making any buttons at the bottom of the app hidden. TangoGPS has most of the functionallity necessary to track where you are on a map. Like GPSDrive, it is compatible with the Open Street Map project,  works with gpsd, and even allows for friend updates.

For now, I have a system that tells me where I am, how fast I’m driving, and allows me to contribute to open street map.  I will be eperimenting with another program called viking shortly and will discuss it here when I know more about it.

After The Fact?

All of my computers are now on Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex).  That’s a Dell D820, a Precision 650, the GQ computer  that I picked up at Fry’s a couple years ago, and even the One.  I’m usually cautious about moving from a LTS edition to a newer version, but for some reason I decided to pull the trigger on upgrading each of my systems instead of performing complete reloads.  All four machines upgraded without catastrophic failures.  I did have to reload the kernel modules for my sound card on the Aspire, but it’s not a big deal.  On the Precision, some lunkhead sysadmin (who is reamining nameless) forgot to move /home to the second drive last time.  All I needed were these instructions and I was back in business:

My Own Aptitiude Repos

I now have several machines running Ubuntu and Debian on my home network.  Each one had an inconsistent version of the packages on it, and I finally decided this morning I was done upgrading each machine individually and downloading updates when I got around to it.  Mikey’s got his own repo now and Mikey likes it.

I found some very simple, very focused instructions at this link:

Next step:  Add a GPG key.

More AA1 Tweaking

Okay, so the Acer Aspire One now has a nickname of AA1.  I kind of like it, so we’ll see if it sticks. I received my own Acer netbook for my birthday and am in the process of tweaking it to my satisfaction.  My biggest annoyance so far has been the lack of codec support out of the box.  XVID has been my favorite codec for a couple years now and I am not about to go back to wmv, especially on a Linux machine.  One little tip I can throw everyone’s way though, the Fedora Repositories were intruded upon back in August.  VLC is the package I noticed this with, but if you tell yum to install vlc, you will receive these errors:

Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package vlc
Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package vlc-core
Error: Missing Dependency: is needed by package vlc-core

This is a result of the security breach (looks like file corruption to me).  To fix it, you need to run this command:

sudo yum install fedora-release

Information can be found on the following page:

Acer Aspire One

Acer recently released the Aspire One.  My wife was looking for a laptop to check email and visit her forums while on the road.  The tech details were GMail and phpBB, for those interested.  We met at MicroCenter after work to look at netbooks on her birthday.  I will not criticize Asus.  They have made large strides in creating the market for the cheap ultra mobile pc, and I love them for it.  But there they were, right next to each other, the EEE Surf and the Acer Aspire One.  Comparing the two, spec to spec, the Acer made the Asus loook like a toy.  It has a standard resolution width (1024).    It has a larger keyboard (80% of a standard keyboard).  To be honest, the “triple-E” looked breakable.

So anyway, we picked one up at a store after dinner.  The clerk gave us the question that I often get hit with when trying to purchase items.  “Now, you know, this isn’t exactly what most people expect from a computer…”  I promptly interrupted, “It runs Linux, right?” Then we walked out the door with her new laptop and weren’t concerned about the price we paid.

I am more than impressed with the thing, mostly for it’s flexibility.  The distribution that it runs standard is called Linpus.  It’s essencially Fedora with a Mobile interface.  It’s very easy to get to a terminal and start customizing to your heart’s content.  I have already added Skype and upgraded the browser to Firefox 3 with AdBlock Plus to prevent the annoyances, both easy tasks if you already understand how Fedora.  For the sake of resource management, Linpus uses XFCE and it’s a simple matter of editing an XML file to modify what your default apps are on the screen interface.

Due to it being Fedora based, I was able to successfully get the Citrix Presentation Server client functioning for her work stuff.  The only major hiccup in this was replacing Thawte’s security certificate in the Citrix package.  It wasn’t very difficult, just a minor annoyance of downloading from elsewhere.  I could see this being a problem for someone with less computer experience.  Here’s my suggestion to Citrix:  Make your software update the certs automatically.  This is the only reason the RPM didn’t work properly.

Well, regardless, the Acer Aspire one is very impressive piece of hardware and I am considering getting one myself just to have the convenience of an extra machine with ssh and a web browser.   Acer really thought this one out.

It’s DR time!!!

With the hurricane season at it’s peak, I’ve decided to include a section focused on DR.  I hope to add links to sites detailing weather and EOC information for the United States.  If anyone elsewhere would like to contribute, please email me at <mike at itadmins dot org>. I’d also like to add sections convering power systems and other details.

Stay Tuned for More Info!

Wake up call for Mozilla

Today, Google relased Chrome Beta, an open source web browser based on Firefox and Webkit.  I am currently writing this post from Chrome.  The biggest benefit I see to Google’s method of writing this program is the intense resource management.  If one tab locks up, the others are fine.  From a technical perspective, this is the best idea since tabbed browsing itself.  Here is a link to the download:

Take that, Comcast

Score one for the consumer.  The head of the FCC has recently announced that they are proceeding with charges against Comcast for traffic shaping, or selectively slowing down and blocking specific protocols on their internet service.

I haven’t been a very big advocate of bitorrent, but this will also prevent ISPs from messing with services such as Skype, Vonage, and other VoIP traffic (a big deal to me).

The way I see it, everyone should be entitled to the connection speed that they sign up for, regardless of what they want to send over the line, within the guidlines of the law, of course.

This is a long shot, but I’m hoping they find proof of blocking competing services, something that has been brought up in the past: .

At that point, they will face an SEC investigation which will make the FCC one look like a bad dream.