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Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: htop //at 02:20 //by abe

from the top-on-steroids dept.

You probably know about “top”, in Debian and Ubuntu part of the procps package.

Ever wanted to see CPU and memory usage as bars and not numbers?

Ever wanted to kill a process from inside top by just selecting its row instead of having to type its pid?

Ever tried to press a cursor key inside top? It makes a noise and says “Unknown command - try ‘h’ for help”. Short said: top is not that interactive.

Ever wanted top to be more colorful?

Well, there is a solution to all these issues. It’s called htop (Debian package) and is some kind of colorful, ncurses based cross-over between top and a Midnight Commander for processes:

htop on single core machine htop on single core machine with MC theme htop on idling 16 core machine htop on 16 core machine under load
More screenshots of htop at and at the project’s site at SourceForge.

It can do many things, top can’t do:

  • Different color themes including fore- and background (includes also a monochrome theme for people considering ANSI colors being eye cancer :-)
  • Highlighting the current user’s processes.
  • Scrolling up, down and sidewards.
  • Interactively selecting processes with cursor keys as well as with the mouse.
  • Kill or renice the selected process without having to enter its pid
  • Show the CPU usage for each core and a CPU usage summary at the same time.
  • Show CPU, memory and swap usage as textual bars, either encoded in colors or characters.
  • Easy interactive configuring while running.
  • Automatically saves the current state (sort order, color scheme, etc.)
  • Easy access to the most often used functions through F-keys like in Midnight Commander.

One more cool thing about htop: It’s also available on the Nokia N900 as “app”.

The only thing I found so far that top can do, but htop can’t, is top’s batch mode (e.g. with “top -b -n 1”) where it runs non-interactively and its output can even be piped to other processes. The Xymon/Hobbit monitoring system uses that as input for some machine statistics.


Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: colored cal(endar) //at 02:09 //by abe

from the colorful-commandline-commands dept.

Another thing I regard as useful on the commandline are colors. (Others commonly refer to my color preferences as eye cancer, but that’s not relevant here. ;-) Colors help to easily distinguish between relevant and non-relevant things or to separate different things.

One colored command line program I use nearly everyday is the colored fork of bsdmainutils’s well know (or at least better known) “cal” program whose output looks like this:

$ cal
    November 2010    
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
    1  2  3  4  5  6
 7  8  9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30

Since the colored fork calls itself still “cal” (as the Debian source package is called), to avoid conflicts with bsdmainutils’s cal, the binary package and the binary itself are called ccal (short for colored cal) and its output looks like this:

$ ccal
    November 2010     
 Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su 
  1  2  3  4  5  6  7 
  8  9 10 11 12 13 14 
 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 
 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 

ccal also use the locale definitions (LC_TIME), if available, that’s why the one “screenshot” is Sun-Sat and the other one is Mon-Sun.

According to the man page, ccal has some more improvements over the classic cal:

If displaying the single-month format, ccal will look for a date file (the default file or whatever you specify with the -d option). If found, ccal will read the file, looking for special date descriptions for that month which will be displayed to the right of the calendar. By default, up to 24 appointments (number may be changed with -m) may be displayed per month. If the current date happens to fall on one of these special dates, it will be flagged by an asterisk. If there is room, appointments for the next month may also be displayed (next month’s dates having definitions like “2nd Thursday” will be skipped).

But I must admit, I don’t use that feature. I just use it as on-demand calendar sheet.

The colored “screenshot” above is btw. generated with Adam Borowski’s ansi2html which popped up after I published my Intent to package “aha” (for Ansi HTML Adapter), the first ANSI colors to HTML converter I found on the net. (And yes I searched for it because of this and some yet to come blog postings. No spoilers here though. ;-)

While capturing colored output of “ls” and some other tools was easy, it needed a little hack to capture ccal’s output, because if you pipe ccal output to anything, it drops its colors. Always. The solution was to run it in GNU Screen, log the output and then pipe the log file through “aha” or “ansi2html”:

$ screen -c /dev/null -L ccal; cat screenlog.0 | ansi2html > ccal.html

Probably the output of every program which drops colors when writing to a pipe instead of a terminal can be fetched that way.

Update, 2:04 CET: As Adam Borowski points out in message 62 of #605380, “script” is the better tool for making tools believe they talk to a terminal:

$ script -q /dev/null -c "ccal" | ansi2html

Catching the output of a whole year’s calender (“ccal 2011”) failed with GNU screen though, as it was truncated on the 24th of September by GNU screen (as it was already truncated in the screenlog.0), so no “screenshot” of that for the moment. And with script, I’d get the whole output, but would have to manually fix the styles so they don’t get posted literally to Planet Debian. So look for yourself how the output of “ccal 2011” looks like by installing ccal. ;-)


Useful but Unknown Unix Commandline Options of cat //at 14:04 //by abe

from the cats-can-do-more-than-you-may-expect dept.

Yesterday in Harald König’s commandline talk at, I first heard of cat’s -e option, and noticed that cat has quite some interesting options. From the man page of cat:

-A, --show-all
equivalent to -vET
-b, --number-nonblank
number nonempty output lines
equivalent to -vE
-E, --show-ends
display $ at end of each line
-n, --number
number all output lines
-s, --squeeze-blank
suppress repeated empty output lines
equivalent to -vT
-T, --show-tabs
display TAB characters as ^I
-v, --show-nonprinting
use ^ and M- notation, except for LFD and TAB

Some examples made on an UTF-8 terminal:

user@host:demo $ cat bla
ä  ö  ü ß   

user@host:demo $ cat -Ab bla
     1  M-CM-$  M-CM-6  M-CM-<^IM-CM-^_   $
     2  abc$
user@host:demo $ cat -Ens bla
     1  ä  ö  ü ß   $
     2	$
     3  abc$
user@host:demo $ 

I hope this blog posting will reduce the percentage of “useless uses of cat” by raising the amount of “useful uses of cat”. :-)


Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: units //at 14:56 //by abe

from the megameter dept.

Ever wondered how to easily convert e.g. 10 seamiles into kilometres? Use units:

$ units 
2411 units, 71 prefixes, 33 nonlinear units

You have: 10 seamiles
You want: km
        * 18.288
        / 0.054680665
You have: ^C

Of course this is interactive. There’s also a non-interactive mode:

$ units '10 seamiles' 'km'
        * 18.288
        / 0.054680665

The line with the asterisk means that 10 seamiles are 18.288 kilometres or 1 kilometre is the 0.054680665th part of 10 seamiles.

This quite non-intuitive output is caused by the fact that unit is designed to be used with units only:

$ units seamiles km
        * 1.8288
        / 0.54680665

Now this makes more sense: You have to multiply seamiles with 1.8288 to get kilometres and you have to multiply (not divide) kilometres with 0.54something to get seamiles.

But this output is still a little bit cumbersome, and annoying if you want to use it in shell scripts. But for luck, units knows some nice options, especially “-v” (“–verbose”) and “-t” (“–terse”):

$ units -v '10 seamiles' km
        10 seamiles = 18.288 km
        10 seamiles = (1 / 0.054680665) km
$ units -t '10 seamiles' km

Now that’s way easier to read and script!

You can also script more complex things like

$ units -v '100 attoparsec/microfortnight' m/s
        100 attoparsec/microfortnight = 2.5509901 m/s
        100 attoparsec/microfortnight = (1 / 0.39200466) m/s

Unfortunately not all common units are unambiguous for units:

units -v '100 km/h' m/s
conformability error
        100 km/h = 1.5091905e+38 s / kg m
        m/s = 1 m / s

Well, “h” seems not to be units unit for “hours”, so lets tell it explicity that we want km per hour:

units -v '100 km/hour' m/s
        100 km/hour = 27.777778 m/s
        100 km/hour = (1 / 0.036) m/s

Looks more like what I expected.

“units” behaves though a little bit strange when I try to convert litres per 100 kilometres into miles per gallon:

$ units -t '6L/100km' 'mpg'
conformability error
6e-08 m^2
425143.71 / m^2

Interestingly changing the verbosity helps already in this case:

$ units -v '6L/100km' 'mpg'
        reciprocal conversion
        1 / (6L/100km) = 39.202431 mpg
        1 / (6L/100km) = (1 / 0.025508622) mpg

Greetings from the Debian booth at and thanks to Y_Plentyn, rhalina and bzed for example ideas and the suggestion to write a blog posting about units. :-)


Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: awsetbg //at 19:03 //by abe

from the an-awesome-background-image-tool dept.

Have you ever wondered which tool you should use to set the background of your X11 desktop? There are tons of it and every single one does need different command line options. And if you picked one, you could be sure, you’ll once come to a machine or operating system, where that one isn’t available.

When I started to play around with the tiling window manager awesome, I also noticed that the awesome Debian package contains awesome’s own desktop background image setting tool named “awsetbg”.

“Yet another one!” I thought.

But I was wrong: Today I noticed the word “wrapper” in awsetbg’s man page. I became curious and had a peek into its source code. And indeed, it’s an awesome desktop background image setting POSIX bourne shell compatible shell-script: It knows about not less than 15 other desktop background image setting tools and can be used as frontend wrapper for those who don’t want to remember each tool’s command line syntax:

Needless to say that most of them are also available in Debian. :-)

You may wonder what’s useful with it. Well, it does something you no more need to do yourself or in one of your own scripts: Checking which desktop background image setting tools are available on the machine you’re currently working and using the appropriate command line options for tiling, fullscreen, whatever.

Only drawback I found so far: In Debian, you need the awesome window manager package to be installed, if you want to get the script via APT. But on the other hand, it’s just a shell script. You can easily put it into your $HOME/bin or so. :-)


Useful but Unknown Unix Commandline Options: touch -d //at 20:42 //by abe

from the How-to-time-your-blog-postings-properly dept.

You may wonder how I manage to write one “Useful but Unknown Unix Something” blog posting per day. Well, I don’t. I write them in bursts, but don’t want to flood Planet Debian and Planet Symlink with more than one such posting a day.

The first bunch of postings were mostly slides (or part of a slide plus what I tell while showing the slide) from my Unknown but Useful Unix Tools talk and written somewhen last week. And this blog posting and yesterday’s blog posting were written in a row, too.

What does that have to do with Unix commandline tools? Well I use Blosxom as blogging engine and it’s based on simple text files lounging around in some directories, and the last modification time stamp is the posting’s date – which is cached after first time seen by the entries_index plugin so that I can fix typos without resetting the posting’s release date. Postings with a modification date in the future won’t be shown before that time.

So how do you set the last modification date to a date in the future? With “touch” from GNU Coreutils of course. Like “date”, “touch” also knows the option “-d” to explicity set a date and time instead of using the current date and time.

Now in my humble opinion the cool feature is that you can easily describe dates by giving touch values like “now + 1 hour”, “12:00 tomorrow” or so:

$ touch bla
$ ls -l
total 0
-rw-r--r-- 1 abe abe 0 2010-11-23 22:59 bla
$ touch -d 'now + 1 day + 23 hours - 42 minutes' bla
$ ls -l
total 0
-rw-r--r-- 1 abe abe 0 2010-11-25 21:17 bla

To see all the possibilities you have to describe relative dates with “touch”, “date”, and maybe other GNU Coreutils tools, check that you have “info” installed and call:

$ info '( items in date strings'

Oh, and this whole story about setting modification dates manually to arbitrary values also means that the “Tattletale Statistics: Blogtimes November 2010” image in my blog’s side bar is absolute nonsense, at least this month. Well, never trust any statistic you haven’t faked yourself. ;-)

But on the other hand, the dates in the example may give a hint when I really wrote that blog posting. Or not. ;-)

And I wonder what my backup tools think about last modification times in the future. Well, they probably only check for modification dates newer than last backup and therefore should be fine. *phew*

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: cut //at 15:55 //by abe

from the the-first-cut-is-the-deepest dept.

Just recently someone asked on how to extract the 3rd to 8th character out of some string. That reminded me that the GNU Coreutils tool “cut” is also quite unknown.

The solution to his problem is:

$ echo Hurzlipuh | cut -c3-8

My favourite usage of “cut” is to restrict the output of programs which can’t do that themselves to 80 columns (common terminal width):

$ dpkg -l | grep -i macro | cut -c-80
ii  docbook-to-man                                       1:2.0.0-28             
ii  latex-cjk-common                                     4.8.2+git20090105-5    
ii  m4                                                   1.4.14-3               
ii  mp4h                                                 1.3.1-5                
rc  swfdec-gnome                                         2.28.0-1               

cut can cut out columns based on characters (-c), bytes (-b), fields (-f) delimited by tab (or the delimiter given by -d).

After many comments: Yes, “dpkg -l” is capable of restricting and even fitting its output to the number of available columns if $COLUMNS is passed as environment variable. (And $COLUMNS is set by default in the shell, but not exported as environment variable as it may change on terminal resize or WINCH signal.)


Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: Convert UTF-8 text files to PostScript with paps //at 02:23 //by abe

from the Keysinging dept.

Sometime you get an UTF-8 encoded text file you want to print. But most text to postscript converters (often invoked automatically by your print server) can only render ISO-Latin-1 text files properly and so you get the notorious ä et al on your printout.

This is especially annoying at PGP/GnuPG keysigning parties where nowadays most people have the names in their UIDs encoded in UTF-8.

Fortunately there is paps (Debian package), a Pango based commandline tool to convert UTF-8 encoded text files into PostScript.

See the paps home page for a neat example.

Update 02:10 (CET): Funnily the explicitly as HTML entities “&Atilde;” and “&curren;” written “ä” above got rendered as “ä” in Liferea, but only in the Planet Debian and Planet Symlink feeds, and only until I put that “&auml;” in this paragraph, because both got converted to their ISO-Latin-1 8-bit equivalent bytes, so that without the “&auml;”, “&Atilde;&curren;”, converted to 8-bit ISO-Latin-1 characters looks also like an UTF-8 “ä”. And Liferea seems to guess the character set somehow and if it validates as UTF-8, it uses UTF-8 even if it isn’t UTF-8. This is a strange Planet.

Useful but Unknown Unix Commandline Options: sort -h //at 01:12 //by abe

from the human-sortable dept.

The GNU coreutils command “du” knows about the option “-h” to output human readable (or at least human friendly) values with unit prefixes, e.g. k, M or G.

The GNU coreutils command “sort” also can sort by numbers for quite a long time using the option “-n”, but that doesn’t work on the output of “du -h”. So you usually just did one of the following commands, but couldn’t easily combine them:

$ du -h
$ du | sort -n

For approximately a year, GNU sort now knows about another command line option named “-h”. You guessed it probably: “sort -h” can sort human readable values with SI prefixes, e.g.

$ du -h | sort -h | tail -15
34M     ./ttf-mplus-033/debian/ttf-mplus
34M     ./ttf-mplus-033/debian/ttf-mplus/usr
34M     ./ttf-mplus-033/debian/ttf-mplus/usr/share
34M     ./ttf-mplus-033/debian/ttf-mplus/usr/share/fonts
34M     ./ttf-mplus-033/debian/ttf-mplus/usr/share/fonts/truetype
34M     ./ttf-mplus-033/debian/ttf-mplus/usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-mplus
35M     ./ttf-mplus-034
57M     ./ttf-mplus-029
60M     ./php5-5.2.6/ext
60M     ./ttf-mplus-030
63M     ./ttf-mplus-031
65M     ./ttf-mplus-032
67M     ./ttf-mplus-033
81M     ./php5-5.2.6
1.5G    .

You can get this feature already in Debian Unstable (Sid) and Testing (Squeeze, the upcoming stable release), and Ubuntu Maverick and Natty, but not yet in the current Debian Stable release (Lenny) nor in the last Ubuntu LTS release (Lucid Lynx).

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: friends of du //at 01:12 //by abe

from the du-on-steroids dept.

You probably all know “du” from GNU Coreutils. But there’s more than just “du” around in Debian.

du | xdu

First there is xdu, which displays du output piped into it graphically, even if “du” is running on some other box with the output coming over an ssh connection:

$ du | xdu
$ ssh server-without-xlibs du some-directory | xdu

Clicking on any directory except the topmost zooms into that directory. Pressing “n” sorts by size and “s” toggles the display of sizes in numbers.


xdiskusage seems to be a fork of xdu or at least shares some GUI code with it as it looks and behaves quite similar.

But the GUI looks nicer, more modern and you don’t need to pipe the output of du into it. It collects the disk usage of a given directory itself.


And then there is ncdu, the “ncurses du”. (It has nothing to do with the German party “CDU”. You can easily remember that as “Not CDU”. ;-) It shows you the disk usage of files and subdirectories in the given directory already sorted by size, optionally displaying also ascii art bars and/or percentage (by pressing “g” one or more times) for better comparision between file and directory sizes. And all easily and intuitively to navigate in an ncurses text-mode user interface.

ncdu 1.3 ~ Use the arrow keys to navigate, press ? for help
--- /home/abe/debian/webwml ------------------------------------
   70.2MB [20.0% ##########] /english
   40.9MB [11.7% #####     ] /french
   35.0MB [10.0% ####      ] /german
   30.2MB [ 8.6% ####      ] /swedish
   26.6MB [ 7.6% ###       ] /japanese
   23.2MB [ 6.6% ###       ] /spanish
   21.5MB [ 6.1% ###       ] /portuguese
   19.8MB [ 5.6% ##        ] /danish
   15.2MB [ 4.3% ##        ] /italian
    9.8MB [ 2.8% #         ] /russian
    8.8MB [ 2.5% #         ] /polish
    6.5MB [ 1.8%           ] /finnish
    5.8MB [ 1.6%           ] /chinese
    4.4MB [ 1.3%           ] /catalan
    4.3MB [ 1.2%           ] /dutch
    3.7MB [ 1.0%           ] /korean
    3.4MB [ 1.0%           ] /ukrainian
    3.0MB [ 0.9%           ] /czech
    2.6MB [ 0.7%           ] /croatian
    2.6MB [ 0.7%           ] /bulgarian
    2.4MB [ 0.7%           ] /norwegian
    1.7MB [ 0.5%           ] /hungarian
    1.6MB [ 0.4%           ] /romanian
    1.2MB [ 0.3%           ] /greek
    1.2MB [ 0.3%           ] /turkish
    1.1MB [ 0.3%           ] /slovak
  576.0kB [ 0.2%           ] /Perl
  556.0kB [ 0.2%           ] /arabic
  428.0kB [ 0.1%           ] /lithuanian
 Total disk usage: 351.1MB  Apparent size: 351.1MB  Items: 70653                                                      

And yes, I uploaded the two screenshots shown above also to as both tools had no screenshots available yet.

Perfect Team: autossh and GNU Screen //at 01:06 //by abe

from the shell-functions-for-road-warriors dept.

SSH is definitely one of my most often used tools, not only for system administration at work but also on the road with my netbook, an EeePC 701 running Debian Sid.

On the road, it often happens that I have a flaky WLAN or UMTS connection, so I often have to kill (via <Enter>~.) and reconnect my SSH session due to a changed IP address or so.

First step against problems arising from using SSH over unreliable network connections is of course GNU Screen. Second step is use SSH keys and ssh-agent to not needing to type the password on every reconnect.

But it’s still very annoying to kill the SSH connection and call ssh again manually. For luck there is autossh, a wrapper around SSH which regularily checks via two tunnels connect to each other on the remote side if the connection is still alive, and if not, it kills the ssh and starts a new one with the same parameters (i.e. tunnels, port forwardings, commands to call, etc.).

It’s quite obvious that this is perfect to be combined with screen’s -R and -d options (Reattach if a detached screen is around, else start a new screen; detach a currently attached screen), so I found myself very often typing (or fetching it from the commandline history :-):

autossh -t 'screen -Rd'

-t is necessary to allocate a terminal device on the remote machine which is not done by default if you directly call a command via ssh.

In comparision to OpenSSH, autossh needs the single quotes, because otherwise it would parse -Rd as options to parse to ssh and bail out. That’s not a real problem, but when you’re used to just type ssh -t screen -Rd without any quotes, you’ll run into this then and when.

Update, 25-May-2010, 14:55: As Carsten Hey points out, autossh also supports the -- option to declare that all following options and parameters must be passed to ssh itself. (End of Update)

Typing that often and mistyping it then and when cries for an shell alias or an shell function. So I came up with the following shell function:

asc() {
    autossh -x -a -t "$@" 'screen -RdU'

I used a function instead of an alias in case of autossh will in future regard all parameters given after the command as part of the command as ssh does.

The additional options -x and -a disable X and SSH Agent forwarding which both don’t work if you reattach to an already running screen.

And if you’re using Zsh as I do, you can even add some more format string magic to set the window title more or less to the expanded alias, eh, function:

function asc() {
    # Set the title to something more obvious, e.g. the expanded
    # alias, eh, function
    print -Pn "\e]0;%n@%m: autossh -t $* 'screen -RdU'\a";
    autossh -x -a -t "$@" 'screen -RdU'
compdef asc=ssh

Update, 25-May-2010, 14:59: As Hauke points out in a comment, Zsh users should also declare that asc should have the same tab completion as ssh itself. The example above has been updated accordingly. (End of Update)

In the meantime on the EeePC I use asc on the commandline more often than ssh itself. And I nearly no more type autossh. (The most common exception here is autossh hostname tail -F /path/to/some/logfile.)

Using that function you can also add common ssh options for tunneling, etc. — I use it most often like this:

asc -D 1080

This opens a SOCKS proxy on localhost, port 1080 and that way I can surf via the host I’m connecting to by SSH.

There’s one small drawback though: You didn’t expect that I can just invent some new three letter command without a namespace clash, did you? There is a free game called Advanced Strategic Command whose binary (and Debian package) is named asc, too. If you have that game installed, you can always call it using its full path, e.g. /usr/games/asc on Debian.

P.S.: My whole grml based .zshrc is also available via git at as well as on github.

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: convmv //at 01:05 //by abe

from the UTF-8-is-good-but-the-migration-to-it-sucks-(less-with-convmv) dept.

Ogg and MP3 files often contain the interpreter and song title in the file name. Which is (besides quoting blanks, etc.) usually no issue if you have English interpreters or song titles.

But it may become a character set issue, if you have songs with e.g. French, German, Greek, or Russian interpreters or song titles: They may not be in your preferred character set and therefore don’t display properly on your system. Worst case: You just see questions marks.

If you face such problems, convmv (man page, Debian package) is your tool, because convmv converts filenames from one encoding to another:

$ ls -lF
total 4
-rw-rw-r-- 1 abe abe 4 2010-11-21 16:17 ????
$ convmv -f latin1 -t utf-8 *
Your Perl version has fleas #37757 #49830 
Starting a dry run without changes...
mv "./??"       "./äöüß"
No changes to your files done. Use --notest to finally rename the files.
$ convmv --notest -f latin1 -t utf-8 *
Your Perl version has fleas #37757 #49830 
mv "./??"       "./äöüß"
$ ls -lF
total 4
-rw-rw-r-- 1 abe abe 4 2010-11-21 16:17 äöüß

Of course it can also recursively rename your whole Ogg collection. And it can do it interactively, too:

$ ls -lF
total 4
-rw-rw-r-- 1 abe abe 4 2010-11-21 16:17 ????
$ convmv -i --notest -f latin1 -t utf-8 *
Your Perl version has fleas #37757 #49830 
mv "./??"       "./äöüß" (y/n) y

$ ls -lF
total 4
-rw-rw-r-- 1 abe abe 4 2010-11-21 16:17 äöüß

So convmv takes away at least one UTF-8 migration fear.

Update 23:03: Nearly forgot, but Mowgli reminded me: There is also convmvfs (Debian package), a FUSE based filesystem which converts file names on access.

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: WebDAV client for the commandline //at 01:04 //by abe

from the cadaver-is-no-cadaver dept.

Ever wondered how to test or connect to a WebDAV server on the commandline? Don’t want to use a bloaty GUI file manager to connect to a WebDAV server?

Then use cadaver (Debian package), a WebDAV client reminiscent of the classic ftp commandline client (plus tab completion :-).

$ cadaver
Authentication required for D-PHYS on server `':
Username: abe
dav:/unixhome/abe/vortraege/> ls
Listing collection `/unixhome/abe/vortraege/': succeeded.
Coll:   wml                                    0  Mar 13  2007
dav:/unixhome/abe/vortraege/> quit
Connection to `' closed.

There is also nd which works more like ncftpget/ncftpput/wget/wput, but I didn’t get the current version in Debian to work with our WebDAV server. Last time I used nd was back then at ECOS times more than half a decade ago.

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: Swiss Army Knife for SMTP //at 01:04 //by abe

from the forget-telnet-on-port-25 dept.

Which mail server administrator hasn’t tested his servers using telnet on port 25, speaking SMTP himself? And which of them made a typo and had to retype everything due to missing readline support of telnet? If you want to check SMTP over SSL aka SMTPS, you had to use “openssl s_client -connect yourserver:465”. And what did you use to check TLS support on port 25?

Just forget about those hassles and use swaks (Debian package), the Swiss Army Knife for SMTP. It does all the annoying stuff (using the correct syntax, typing fast enough, SSL, TLS, etc.) for you while still giving you full control over the SMTP session, especially showing you all input and output:

$ swaks -t -s -q RCPT
=== Trying
=== Connected to
<-  220 ESMTP Postfix (Debian/GNU)
 -> EHLO
<-  250-SIZE 10240000
<-  250 8BITMIME
 -> MAIL FROM:<>
<-  250 2.1.0 Ok
 -> RCPT TO:<>
<** 450 4.2.0 <>: Sender address rejected: Greylisted, see
 -> QUIT
<-  221 2.0.0 Bye
=== Connection closed with remote host.

Since the moment I discovered swaks, I never telnetted to port 25 anymore.

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools //at 01:04 //by abe

from the let's-start-a-column dept.

Most of my talks are either talks about commandline basics (Commandline Helpers about GNU Coreutils and Findutils usage; Understanding Shell Quoting) or collections of small tips and tricks, e.g. about SSH, History Expansion, or commandline tools. Valentin Haenel called this second type of talks “nugget talks”. I like that term.

My newest talk (German only so far, next occasion at the LUGS meeting in Zurich on 16th of December 2010) is such a nugget talk and is about useful but unknown tools. While preparing that talk I noticed that the amount of neat but less known tools I collected for possible inclusion into that talk would be enough for a whole day or so. I noticed that I’ll never be able to give a talk about all that stuff.

To not letting these tips rot in that file uncommented, I decided that I’ll write (more or less) short blog postings about these tools, similar to and inspired by Myon’s blog postings about Cool Unix Features as well as the no more existing or at least broken Debian Package of the Day and Debian Package a Day.

While Myon mostly posted long-time but still unknown features, my postings will mostly cover useful but unknown packages available in Debian and most debian-derived distributions like grml and Ubuntu. Some postings may also just highlight some features of common tools or packages like e.g. GNU Coreutils.

You can subscribe to these tips via RSS or just view all of them in your web browser at

Multiple Move & Co. //at 00:08 //by abe

from the variations dept.

nion’s blog made me notice that many people don’t know mmv (multiple move), which approximately works like this:

mmv '*.htm' #1.html
mmv '*.foo.*' #1.#2.bla

Additionally, mmv also can copy, link or even append files when called as mcp, mln or mad respectively with the appropriate command line options.

When I told nion in IRC on about mmv, HE pointed me to the Perl script /usr/bin/rename, which is in Debian’s perl package and therefore installed on nearly every Debian system by default. It moves files by applying perl subsitutions to file names:

rename 's/\.htm$/.html/' *.htm
rename 'y/A-Z/a-z/' *

Being curious, if the newly found tool is not only available in Debian, I looked on a SuSE 9.0 box and indeed, I also found there a /usr/bin/rename. But — surprise, surprise — it’s not a Perl script but an ELF binary. And although it does similar things than mmv and Debian’s rename, it is the simplest of the three commands:

rename .htm .html *.htm
rename foo foo00 foo?
rename foo foo0 foo??

Note to my self: Nice add-on for your command line efficiency talk.

autossh vs TCP resetter //at 00:08 //by abe

from the lick-my-ass-script-kiddie dept.

LUG-Camp 2007 in Interlaken is nearly over, and I’m reading my mail as usual using ssh, screen and mutt on the server. But the ssh connection resets every few minutes. According to the LUSC people (who are running the gateway) some script kiddie is running a TCP resetter somewhere in the network.

I remembered that I read about autossh in the Debian package list once a while and that it sounded cool but I had no use for it yet. Until now.

I’m writing this over the same crashing ssh connection and I’m typing without taking big notice of the quite often occurring connection resets:

autossh -t 'screen -rd'

It just works. :-)

Group packages by origin in aptitude //at 00:06 //by abe

from the reasons-for-loving-debian dept.

I always wondered how others recognise non-Debian packages in the aptitude package tree. I also missed the additional priority level in the hierachy well-known from good old dselect.

For the last one, I quickly found out that you can set the priority as subsection — it’s straight forward after you’ve read the documentation: Just add ,priority at the end of the default grouping method for package views under “Options → UI Options” in the aptitude menu.

Getting the origin as given in the Release file of the repository a package originates from is a little bit more difficult. You need to use the pattern() group function with the appropriate search pattern: pattern(~O)

Since already the default default grouping method for package views doesn’t fit into the dialog, I nowadays just edit /etc/apt/apt.conf directly for changes on aptitude’s default grouping method for package views. It now looks like this on several of my machines:

Aptitude::UI {
  Default-Grouping "filter(missing),status,section(subdir,passthrough),pattern(~O),section(topdir),priority";

In aptitude this looks like this:

  --- text - Text processing utilities
  --\ utils - Various system utilities
    --- Debian
    --- Mowgli
  --\ web - Web browsers, servers, proxies, and other tools
    --- Debian
    --- Opera Software ASA
  --\ x11 - The X window system and related software
    --\ Debian
      --- contrib - Programs which depend on software not in Debian
      --\ main - The main Debian archive
        --- Priority optional
        --- Priority extra
      --- non-free - Programs which are not free software
    --- Mowgli

Unfortunately this doesn’t work with all non-Debian repositories since a few repository maintainer, e.g. those from Emdebian, arrogate to just keep “Debian” as their packages’ origin. This could be solved, if there’s a possibility to group by e.g. repository URL (host and/or path).

Another problem I haven’t solved yet is that grouping by origin does neither work with locally created nor virtual packages nor tasks — probably since all of them lack an origin. Those branches are just empty or don’t even show up anymore with this configuration. I probably have to dig a little bit more in the aptitude documentation to resolve this.

Now playing: E-Rotic — Max don’t have sex with your ex

Useful but Unknown Unix Tools: netselect //at 00:05 //by abe

from the tune-your-sources.list dept.

Ever wondered which mirror of your favourite Linux distribution is the fastest at your location?

Check it with netselect (code at GitHub). It checks for the number of hops and ping times to given hosts and tells you which one is the fastest of them:

# netselect -vv \
Running netselect to choose 1 out of 5 addresses.
.......................................................                       25 ms  16 hops   90% ok ( 9/10) [   72]                      17 ms  17 hops   90% ok ( 9/10) [   51]                        0 ms   3 hops   90% ok ( 9/10) [    0]                       22 ms  15 hops   90% ok ( 9/10) [   62]                          22 ms  15 hops   90% ok ( 9/10) [   60]

And if you’re too lazy to optimize your sources.list with netselect manually, just use the netselect-apt package. It will do it for you.


ratpoison and focus follows mouse //at 00:22 //by abe

from the Wild-Hack dept.

I use ratpoison as window manager on my ASUS EeePC netbook “nemo” for more than two years now. But although I’m very happy with ratpoison in the EeePC, there are two feature wishes which have been refused by upstream: One is more flexibel window name matching for the unmanage command. The other one is “focus follows mouse” between ratpoison frames.

Well, I always guessed that it was possible, but it took until now to find outhow to implement “focus follows mouse” for ratpoison.

There’s an ancient but still useful tool called Not a Window Manager (nawm) which is a small awk-like interpreter offering mostly window handling functions.

The following .nawmrc implements “focus follows mouse” in nawm:

window newwin;  # stores window to raise
window lastwin; # stores previous window to prevent race conditions
leave {
    lastwin = currentwindow;
enter {
    newwin = pointerwindow();
    if (name(newwin) != "" && newwin != lastwin) {
        raise newwin;

The leave hook is necessary to prevent flapping between two windows if switched between them via ratpoison’s commands.

I also had to add the following hook to my .ratpoisonrc to work around some cases where ratpoison’s own window switching didn’t work anymore. Only happened with more than one frame — with one frame banishing the mouse cursor was annoying, so I filtered that case:

addhook switchwin exec if [ `ratpoison -c fdump|fgrep -o frame|wc -l` -gt 1 ]; then ratpoison -c banish; fi

Unfortunately nawm has been removed from Debian Sid about a year ago due to being buggy and orphaned. There was not upstream development for seven years or so either.

So for the moment you can get nawm either from Debian Lenny or from

But I had to fix a segfault in nawm when calling name() on a window without name to be able to use it at all, so you will probably have to rebuild it anyway with the following patch:

diff -u nawm-0.0.20030130/builtins.c nawm-0.0.20030130-patched/builtins.c
--- nawm-0.0.20030130/builtins.c        2010-10-25 06:00:02.000000000 +0200
+++ nawm-0.0.20030130-patched/builtins.c        2010-10-25 04:15:25.000000000 +0200
@@ -546,8 +546,12 @@
     *name = gcstrdup("");
-      *name = gcstrdup((char *)nm);
-      XFree(nm);
+      if ((char *)nm) {
+        *name = gcstrdup((char *)nm);
+        XFree(nm);
+      } else {
+        *name = gcstrdup("");
+      }

And yes, I’m thinking about adopting and reintroducing the nawm package into Debian Sid.

But I’d prefer if anyone could give me a hint how to do this with more current and still maintained tools (or a patch against ratpoison :-). I looked into suckless-tools, but I haven’t found anything in there which provides hooks on X events. And the Perl module Tk seems to be able to set X event hooks, but only within the application being written itself.


SuSE sucks! //at 05:44 //by abe

from the frustration dept.

Since SuSE closes the security support two years after release and the recent KDE JavaShit remote code execution hole wasn’t patched as fast as I would have expected it (the patch came out after the upgrade I’m writing about here) in the SuSE 9.0 which was installed on my 2.66 GHz AMD desktop at work (it started as in 2002 as a SuSE 7.3 on a 400 MHz box and has been upgraded since then to 8.0, 8.2 and 9.0 IIRC), I decided, it’s now really time to upgrade to SuSE 10.0. (Although 10.1 will be out soon, I just don’t want to wait for it.) And since my boss only wants SuSE boxes and neither Debian (which I would prefer) nor Gentoo (which a colleague prefers), I couldn’t simply install Sarge on this box although I would have chosen that option if it would have been available.

Since my former SuSE experiences told me that this would mean a lot of trouble, I took notes from the beginning, once for the blog and once for my boss to show him, that most trouble doesn’t come from me being a power user used to being allowed to touch any config file (like I am on Debian).


So I begin with the preparations: Starting the 400 MHz Debian Woody box on my desktop (whose operating system is more than a year older than SuSE 9.0 and still has security support, yeah!) I usually need to build custom Debian packages for customers. There I could chat in IRC and took notes while trying to upgrade and get the whole thing working again.

When everything was ready, I put the SuSE DVD in — just to notice, that it’s just a CD-ROM. So I put the SuSE 10.0 CD1 in the CD-ROM drive and typed “sudo shutdown -r now” in the shell. The box starts shutting down and tells me:

Please stand by while rebooting the system…

But it didn’t reboot. I waited for several minutes, nothing happend. Well, seems as if the SuSE upgrade already starts as I expect it to end: Horrible.

Read more…


New upstream versions of xrootconsole and keynav in Debian Experimental //at 16:45 //by abe

from the There-are-X-worlds-other-than-GNOME,-KDE,-XFCE-and-LXDE dept.

I recently uploaded new upstream versions of two neat small X tools to Debian Experimental:

  • xrootconsole displays on a transparent or shaded layer on the root window what it gets as input on STDIN, from a FIFO or from a file, and
  • keynav, a way to control your mouse cursor efficiently with the keyboard.

Both packages introduce several new features and I’d be happy if users of these packages in Debian Sid or Debian Sid users curious about them could test the versions in Debian Experimental.

xrootconsole 0.6 + patches

xrootconsole saw no love since 2006 with the last maintainer upload having been in 2002. Nevertheless it never got kicked out of Debian just because of this. The package had been forcibly orphaned just less than a year ago. So it’s no big wonder that this new upstream version I packaged was released already back in 2004. :-)

But besides packaging a new upstream version, bumping Standards-Version and debhelper compatibility, fixing tons of lintian warnings and some bugs, I also added two patches which add new features not (yet) available upstream:

  • UTF-8 support: Upstream xrootconsole just drops all bytes where the 8th bit is set which only allows ASCII. Miroslav Jezbera submitted a patch to allow at least displaying localized text containing single byte 8 bit characters as used in all ISO-Latin encodings. Inspired by the patch to add UTF-8 support to ratmenu, I wrote a patch to add UTF-8 support for xrootconsole, too.
  • ANSI color support: Last year, Julien Viard de Galbert, who is also active in Debian, posted a patch in his blog to support ANSI colors as produced by many log colorizers like e.g. loco (RIP), colortail, lwatch, or ccze. (Didn’t get colortail and lwatch to work with xrootconsole yet, though.) I included this patch and made it compatible with my UTF-8 support patch. The patch raises the memory consumption per displayed character by one byte, but effectively I just saw an overall memory usage increase of about 25% which seems acceptable.

Of course I informed upstream about these feature patches, but I haven’t got any feedback yet.

But I got feedback from Julien Viard de Galbert, and he’ll join me in packaging xrootconsole as co-maintainer.

keynav 0.20101014.3067

I adopted the Debian package of keynav recently, subscribed to the keynav mailing list (well, it’s a Google group), got a nice welcome mail from the very friendly upstream developer Jordan Sissel who offered to help with any keynav issues.

I told him what features I’d like to see in keynav to fit better the setup where I’m using it. And just a few days later there was a new upstream release including both features I suggested, some more neat new features, and one bug fix. Jordan Sissel writes in the upstream changelog (emphasis and italic text by me):

  • Added ‘restart’ command. Makes keynav restart. Useful for binding a key to reload the config.
  • Added ‘loadconfig’ command. This lets you include additional config files to load on the command line or in one of the default keynavrc files. (requested by Axel Beckert) … and already in use here.
  • keynav will now restart if it receives SIGHUP or SIGUSR1
  • Map ‘Enter’ by default to ‘warp,click 1,end’ (requested by Axel Beckert)
  • Fix a bug causing the point under the mouse cursor to not click through the keynav window in certain conditions. Reported via mailing list by Eric Van Dewoestine and Krister Svanlund.

Both packages will be reuploaded to Debian Sid (Unstable) after the release of Debian Squeeze (currently “testing”).


Thoughts on Gitorious and GitHub plus a useful git hook //at 11:36 //by abe

from the real-men-just-upload-their-important-stuff-on-git-and-let-the-rest-of-the-world-clone-it dept.

When I took over the developement of xen-tools, I looked around for an appropriate git hosting. I especially had a look at GitHub and Gitorious.

If you just regard the features, GitHub is definitely more targetted on single developers and Gitorious more towards projects:

At GitHub, every repository has its URL under the URL of a user page which makes it nearly impossible to have user independent, “official” repositories for projects which have more than one official developer.

At Gitorious, every hosted repository needs to belong to a project, even if it’s only a published configuration. But a project can have more than one git repository. You only seem to be able to have personal repositories if you clone some existing Gitorious repository.

So from a feature point of view, the xen-tools git repositories fit way better to Gitorious’ hosting while the git repositories with zshrc, conkerorrc and desktop configuration files defintely have a more fitting addresses on GitHub, in my case$repository. On Gitorious, they are now together under a “project” called “Axel’s configuration files” at which contains git repositories of my on grml’s .zshrc based .zshrc, my configuration for Conkeror and all the files necessary for my ratpoison/xmobar based netbook/laptop desktop.

I though feel a little bad for giving the project the very short “slug” name “abe” instead of “abe-config” (as I did initially) since “abe” is IMHO not a proper “project name” for my configuration files and possibly other projects would have a more reasonable claim for that project name on Gitorious. But that way it suites more its purpose: Gather some of my git repositories which don’t belong to a proper project.

But there’s another important point when comparing Gitorious and GitHub: Free Software needs free tools as Benjamin Mako Hill posted recently on Planet Debian. Despite my (probably well known) distrust against Google and therefore also Google Code, and despite knowing the history of SourceForge becoming non-free, I was not that much aware that GitHub’s software is only partially open source and therefore also not free software while Gitorious is both as it’s licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License (like StatusNet/ for example) which is basically GPLv3, but its ideas applied to hosted web applications scenario (where the GPL itself doesn’t grasp), too.

Initially I just had the xen-tools git repositories on Gitorious and all my small one-repository “projects” as copies of the repositories on my own git server on GitHub to get some more publicity for them and allow “social cloning”. After reading Mako’s article, I decided to at least have repository clones on Gitorious of all repositories I mirror at GitHub, too.

That way I force nobody to use the non-free tools on GitHub for “social cloning” one of my git repositories. And of course I have copies of my code somewhere on the net as backup. Or to say it with Linus Torvalds’ (slightly updated) words: Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on git, and let the rest of the world clone it. ;-)

But isn’t that tedious to always push your code to three repositories? No, it isn’t. I just push my code to where I have configured the according remotes and the following post-receive hook:

read oldrev newrev refname
git push gitorious ${refname:t}
git push github ${refname:t}

The only other thing necessary is to use ssh-agent and SSH agent forwarding to at least the host you’re pushing to.


xen-tools 4.2 released //at 13:55 //by abe

from the finally-a-final dept.

Last night, I released xen-tools 4.2 and also uploaded it to Debian Unstable. It also should become part of the upcoming Debian stable release called Squeeze. (Thanks, Mehdi!)

For those who are missing xen-tools in Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx or Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat, there’s now a xen-tools PPA containing the current stable package for both Ubuntu releases.

Major changes since the 4.2 release candidate 1:

  • Tons of documentation improvements
  • Preliminary support for Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal and Debian 7.0 Wheezy (Closes #597521)
  • More robustness on exotic combinations of command-line options

Major changes since 4.2 beta 1:

  • Uses GeoIP for Debian mirrors: Default Debian mirror is now
  • Uses apt-config to parse Dom0’s apt.conf. (Closes #560011)
  • With --verbose, the output of commands called by xen-tools (e.g. debootstrap) is not only logged, but also printed to STDOUT. (Closes #513126)
  • Adds btrfs support.

New Team Member

I’d also like to welcome Stéphane Jourdois as member of the xen-tools development team who contributed quite a lot of the new code in 4.2. See GitHub’s Impact Graph or Ohloh’s List of Contributors.


If there’s no need for a bug fix release, the next release will be 5.0 and will be the result of some heavy refactoring. Our aim is:

  • less code duplication
  • more modularity
  • more consistency over all included scripts and hooks

We will probably also use Perl::Critic to improve the code consistency and quality further. (Thanks Renée for the idea!)

xen-tools back in Debian Unstable //at 13:54 //by abe

from the RM-ITP-NEW dept.

After xen-tools had been removed from Debian Unstable by the upstream developer last December due to no more upstream development, I took over upstream development as well as Debian package maintainership in January.

Since then a lot happened:

  • Development moved from Mercurial to a set of git repositories at
  • Dmitry Nedospasov joined my effort to revive xen-tools.
  • Via gitorious’ clone tracking we noticed that there were useful patches in clones of xen-tools and incorporated most of them back into our master branch.
  • We created a second mailing list xen-tools-dev which is mainly thought for communication between the xen-tools developers.
  • The website and the xen-tools mailing lists moved from Steve’s to my server. The website has been slightly overhauled and the mailing lists now use Mailman.
  • Support for all recent Debian and Ubuntu releases including Squeeze and Lucid.
  • Full support for pygrub and DomU distribution kernels installed in the DomU. Now you easily can install DomUs whose udev doesn’t fit to your Dom0 kernel.
  • Full support for cdebootstrap in addition to debootstrap.
  • Tons of bugs fixed
  • I’m on the quest to find the holy grail of bug tracking systems. ;-) More on this in another blog posting.

But despite all the things which were to fix after Steve discontinued the xen-tools developement, Steve Kemp did a great job to bring xen-tools so far initially. I’m really happy that this software exists and that’s the reason why I won’t let it die so fast. :-)

xen-tools 4.2 beta 1 released

Last weekend I released xen-tools 4.2 beta 1 which I also uploaded to Debian Unstable. And thanks to the active ftp-master team, xen-tools went through the NEW queue in less than 12 hours and is now available again in Debian Unstable.

4.2 beta 1 still has some known bugs, the worst ones are in xen-delete-image. But no fear, it doesn’t delete more than wanted, just not enough or things which don’t exist anyway. :-) There are also some smaller issues to fix for a final 4.2 release.

We may also create an PPA for Ubuntu Lucid in the future to work around the lack of xen-tools in Ubuntu Lucid.

What about Fedora/RedHat/CentOS support?

Since rinse is out of date with regards to current Fedora releases, rpmstrap seems to be out of date for even longer (it has been removed from Debian before the Lenny release) and febootstrap neither seems to work out of the box nor seems to support bootstrapping to mount points (because it wants to delete them first and fails), bootstrapping Fedora ist currently not supported. The “copy” installation method should work though.

rinse still is able to bootstrap CentOS 4 and 5, but the installation seems incomplete. We’ll try to work around these issues for the final 4.2 release.

We haven’t looked at mach and mock so far, but according to Lucas, both are out of date, too.

Sure, implementing Lucas’ howto in form of a script would be a possible way, but we think it would just create yet another not so well supported clone of rinse, rpmstrap, mach, mock or febootstrap.

Because of that, Dmitry works on support for the installation of Xen DomUs via kickstart.

Fate of xen-shell?

Xen-shell has also been removed from Debian Unstable last December because Steve stopped its developement, too.

But in comparison to xen-tools itself, we didn’t resurrect xen-shell since none of us currently has use for it.

So if you are currently using xen-shell and intend to continue to do so, you should hurry up if you want to see it in Debian Squeeze. We can also help you, but we surely can’t and won’t do it alone nor will we take the majority of the necessary workload.


Still happy with the ASUS EeePC 701 //at 16:02 //by abe

from the Good-Hardware dept.

Recently Eric asked on the LUG Vorarlberg mailing list about netbook experience. I wrote a lengthy reply summarizing my experiences with the ASUS EeePC 701. And I thought this is something I probably should share with more people than only one LUG:

I ordered an ASUS EeePC 701 (4G) with US keyboard layout at digitec in Spring 2008, got it approximately one month later and posted a first resumé after one month in my blog.

I’m still very happy with the EeePC 701, despite two commonly mentioned drawbacks (the small screen resolution and the small SSD – which I both don’t see as real problems) and some other minor issues.

What matters

  • Very robust and compact case. And thanks to a small fan being the only moving part inside, the EeePC 701 is also very robust against mobile use.
  • Very pleasing always-in-my-daypack size (despite the 7" screen it’s the typical 9" netbook size) and easily held with one hand.
  • Black. No glossy display. Neither clear varnish nor piano laquer. Short: No bath room tile. Textured surface, small scratches don’t stick out and don’t matter.
  • Debian (previously Lenny, now Sid) runs fine on it, even the webcam works out-of-the-box.
  • Despite all those neat features, it was fscking cheap at that time. And it was available without Windows.

Nice to have

  • There’s power on the USB sockets even if the EeePC is turned off but the power supply is plugged in.
  • The speakers are impressingly good and loud for their size. (But my demands with regards to audio are probably not too high, so audiophiles shouldn’t run to ebay because of this. ;-)
  • It has three external USB sockets.

What doesn’t matter

  • The small 7" 800×480 screen: I like small fonts and do most things inside a terminal anyway. And even with 800×480, those terminals are still much bigger than 80×25 characters. Only some applications and webpages have no heart for small screens.
  • The small disk size: Quite a lot of programs fit on 4 GB of disk space. Additionally I use tmpfs a lot. And music and video files are either on a external 500 GB Western Digital 2.5" “My Passport” disk (which I need quite seldomly) or much more come via sshfs and IPv6 from my home server anyway. :-)
  • The small keyboard: I just don’t have any problems with the size or layout (right shift right of the cursor up key, etc.) of the keyboard. Well, maybe except that any standard sized keyboard feels extremely large after having used the EeePC exclusively for some weeks. ;-)
  • The to 630 MHz underclocked 900 MHz Intel Celeron: It’s enough for most of the things I do with the EeePC. Also the original 512 MB RAM are somehow ok, but for using tmpfs, but no swap space at all, 1 GB or 2 GB are surely the better choice.
  • A battery runtime of 2.5h to 3h is fine for me.

What’s not so nice

  • The “n” key needs to be pressed slighty stronger than other keys, otherwise no “n” appears. So if one of my texts in average misses more “n” than other letters, I typed it on the EeePC. ;-)
  • Home, End, Page-Up, and Page-Down need the Fn key. This means that these keys can only be used with two hands (or one very big hand and I have quite small hands). This is usually no problem and you get used to it. It’s just annoying if you hold the EeePC with one hand and try to type with the other.
  • What looks like a single mouse button is a seesaw and therefore two mouse buttons below one button. This makes it quite hard to press both at the same time, e.g. for emulating a middle mouse button press. It usually works in about half of all cases I tried it. My solution was to bind some key combination to emulate a middle mouse button in my window manager, ratpoison:
    bind y ratclick 2
    And that mouse button bar already fell off two times.
  • The battery reports only in 10% steps, and reporting in percentage instead of mAh is an ACPI standard violation because reporting in percentage is only allowed for non-rechargable batteries. It also doesn’t report any charging and discharging rates. But in the meanwhile nearly all battery meter can cope with these hardware bugs. This was quite a problem in the early days.
  • Now, after approximately 1.5 years, the battery slowly fritzes: When charging there are often only seconds between 10% and 40%. Rigorously using up all power of the battery helped a little bit. Looks like some kind of memory effect althought the battery is labeled Li-Ion and not Ni-MH and Li-Ion batteries are said to have no memory effect.
  • The SD card reader only works fine if you once completed the setup of the original firmware or set the corresponding BIOS switch appropriately. No idea why.

Similar models

Technically, most of this also counts for the EeePC 900SD (not 901) which only differs in screen, resolution and disk size as well as CPU, but not on the the case. So same size, same robustness, same battery, same mainboard, bigger screen, resolution, disk and faster CPU. (The 901 has a different CPU, a different battery, and a different, glossy and partially chromed case.) See Wikipedia for the technical specifications of all EeePC models.

ASUS’ only big FAILure

Stopping to sell most EeePCs with Linux and cowardly teaming up with Microsoft after having shown big courage to come out with a Linux only netbook. Well, you probably already know, but it’s better without Windows

So basically you no more get these really neat netbooks from ASUS anymore and you get nearly no netbooks with Linux from ASUS in the stores anymore. It’s a shame.

Would I buy it again?


Well, maybe I would also buy the 900SD, 900AX (replacing the harddisk with an SSD) or 702 (8G) instead of the 701, but basically they’re very similar. See Wikipedia for the differences between these EeePC models. And of course I still prefer the versions without Windows.

But despite the low price, the EeePC 701 is surprisingly robust and still works as on the first day (ok, except battery, the mouse button bar and the “n” key ;-), so I recently bought a second power supply (only white ones were available *grrrr*) and ordered a bigger third party battery plus an adapter to load the battery directly from the (second) power supply without EeePC inbetween.

What desktop do I use on the EeePC?


I use ratpoison as window manager, uxterm, urxvt, and yeahconsole as terminal emulators (running zsh with grml based .zshrc even as root’s login shell :-), wicd-curses as network manager and xmobar (previously dzen2) with i3status as text-only panel. Installed editors are GNU Emacs 23, GNU Zile and nvi. (No vim. :-)

And of course a netbook wouldn’t be a netbook if it wouldn’t have a lot of network applications installed. For me the most important ones are: ssh, scp, autossh, sshfs, miredo, conkeror, git, hg, and rsync.

Monday·01·February·2010 //at 02:02 //by abe

from the finally dept.

On Wednesday I got DAM approval and since Saturday late evening I’m officially a Debian Developer. Yay! :-)

My thanks go to

  • Christoph Berg (Myon) whom I know for more than a decade since we studied together, and who’s career in Debian was way faster than mine, but who on the other hand probably knows me better than nobody else in Debian — which made him the perfect advocate;
  • Bernd Zeimetz (bzed) whom I know from my times at DaLUG and who was the friendliest Application Manager I could imagine — he’s probably also one of the fastest (8 days from application to AM report :-);
  • Luca Capello (gismo), who was the most demanding but also most inspiring sponsor I ever had and who became a very good friend after we found each other over my package conkeror.
  • Arne Wichmann (Y_Plentyn) for being my first drop-in center for Debian questions (like “can I directly dist-upgrade from 2.0 to 3.0?” :-);
  • Martin Zobel-Helas (zobel) who was always encouraging me to continue exploring new sides of Debian;
  • Gerfried Fuchs (Rhonda) just for being there (and for being a package maintainer with good relations to upstream ;-);
  • my coworkers at the IT Services Group of the Department of Physics at ETH Zurich, who always found new challenges in Debian for me to solve;
  • … and all those others who offered to also advocate me (e.g. Otavio Salvador) or sponsored my packages so far (or at least offered to do so), e.g. Alexander Wirt (formorer), Martin F. Krafft (madduck), Robert Jördens (jordens), …

As Bernd cited in his AM report, my earliest activity within the Debian community I can remember was organising the Debian booth at 2003, where I installed Debian 3.0 Woody on my Hamilton Hamstation “hy” (a Sun SparcStation 4 clone).

I wrote my first bugreport in November 2004 (#283365), probably during the Sarge BSP in Frankfurt. And my first Debian package was wikipedia2text, starting to package it August 2005 (ITP #325417).

My only earlier documented interest in the Debian community is subscribing to the lists debian-apache@l.d.o and debian-emacsen@l.d.o in June 2002.

I though remember that I started playing around with Debian 2.0 Hamm, skipping 2.1 (for whatever reasons, I can’t remember), using 2.2 quite regularily and started to dive into with Woody which also ran on my first ThinkPad “bijou”. I installed it over WLAN with just a boot floppy at the Chemnitzer Linux-Tage. :-)

Anyway, this has led to what it had to lead — to a new Debian Developer. :-)

The first package I uploaded with my newly granted rights was a new conkeror snapshot. This version should work out of the box on Ubuntu again, so that conkeror in Ubuntu should not lag that much behind Debian Sid anymore.

In other News

Since Wednesday I own a Nokia N900 and use it as my primary mobile phone now. Although it’s not as free as the OpenMoko (see two other recent posts by Lucas Nussbaum and by Tollef Fog Heen on Planet Debian) it’s definitely what I hoped the OpenMoko will once become. And even if I can’t run Debian natively on the N900 (yet), it at least has a Debian chroot on it. :-)

I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting A few weeks ago, I took over the organisation of this year’s Debian booth at FOSDEM from Wouter Verhelst who’s busy enough with FOSDEM organisation itself.

Last Monday the organiser of the BSD DevRoom at FOSDEM asked on #mirbsd for talk suggestions and they somehow talked me into giving a talk about Debian GNU/kFreeBSD. The slides should show up during the next days on my Debian GNU/kFreeBSD talks page. I hope, I’ll survive that talk despite giving more or less a talk saying “Jehova!”. ;-)

What a week.

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Hackergotchi of Axel Beckert


This is the blog or weblog of Axel Stefan Beckert (aka abe or XTaran) who thought, he would never start blogging... (He also once thought, that there is no reason to switch to this new ugly Netscape thing because Mosaïc works fine. That was about 1996.) Well, times change...

He was born 1975 at Villingen-Schwenningen, made his Abitur at Schwäbisch Hall, studied Computer Science with minor Biology at University of Saarland at Saarbrücken (Germany) and now lives in Zürich (Switzerland), working at the Network Security Group (NSG) of the Central IT Services (Informatikdienste) at ETH Zurich.

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