NoMachine NX Desktop on Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin – No menus?

NoMachine NX is a perfect solution to connect to your remote Ubuntu desktop. But ever since Canonical introduced Unity, NoMachine doesn’t seem so perfect anymore: client successfully connects to the NX server, but the menus never show up, and there’s no Unity side bar.

Here’s what works in 12.04 Precise Pangolin:

On the remote machine open up this file: /usr/NX/etc/node.cfg and edit it as a superuser:

sudo vim /usr/NX/etc/node.cfg

Towards the end of the file, look for CommandStartGnome and change it to

CommandStartGnome = "/usr/bin/gnome-session --session=ubuntu-2d"

Save the file, and Unity should now work in 2D mode the next time you connect and the menus and the sidebar will show up.

Posted in Howtos, Technology | 15 Comments

Meet me on a walk

More often than not, I will find myself sitting at the desk, staring at the computer screen for hours at a time. When I work, I always strive for razor sharp focus, or to put it in a more common term: the zone.

I’m usually not even aware of time. Hours begin to fly by like minutes and it’s not until after I victoriously finish my tasks, that I realize my sore neck has gotten noticeably sorer. The clock has skipped 3 hours or more and my bladder is about to explode. To say that I am then ready to jump up from the chair and just stretch, would be an insult to my blood deprived legs and a serious hazard for my dry pants.

So am I convicted to feeling like a worn out old man, for the rest of my life, as health detriments of such behavior accumulate over time?

Hell, no! Especially not after having read this wonderful article about health benefits of breaking up prolonged sitting. If I learned anything from the article, it’s that it is up to me to take regular breaks from sitting. And one particular idea inspired me to write this piece in the first place:

Ptuj, Slovenia

Next meeting - streets of Ptuj (via Wikipedia)

“conduct meetings while walking outdoors  – these can be very effective for one-on-ones with colleagues”

There. It’s the best idea I’ve come across this year. I will start to practice that. So my next meeting will probably be on the scenic streets of Ptuj. See you there!

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I hate writing envelope addresses by hand

Luckily so do @rifeljm, @dgurnick and @morphix, the authors of envelopa.com.

I just used their fine (free!) service to print 24 envelopes for season greeting cards I helped craft, together with my son and wife.

Envelope printing goodness for the lazy at heart.

The service lets you import addresses with no sweat, using CSV or pasted from a spreadsheet. Select your addresses, pick an envelope size, or set your own and you’re good to go.
Give it a shot now, will you?

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Sync your passwords between your phone and computers using Dropbox and KeePass

If you use passwords like 12345 for anything else than maybe your luggage, you probably don’t need to read this post. If you’re smarter than that and you use proper passwords, you might be interested to learn how to store them safely while having them handy at all times.

KeePass is a very popular cross-platform solution that stores your passwords to a local encrypted file. To have a look inside the database you need to provide the master password. Once inside, all your passwords, PINs and credit cards are at your disposal.

Storing passwords exclusively to a local file generally isn’t a very good idea. To keep your passwords mobile and safe from data loss (disk crashes, cell phone drownings, stolen laptops…) I recommend you use a cloud store, like Dropbox.

Dropbox is a neat free service that syncs files between all your devices, portable or otherwise. I use it between my desktop, my workplace desktop and my HTC Desire. Syncing happens automatically in the background, so your password safe will be up to date, wherever you are.

1. To get started, you need to download and install a Dropbox client (Mac, Linux, Windows) and set up an account if you don’t have one already. Once installed, your computer (or mobile device) will feature a new folder, called Dropbox, which is shared between all your devices.

2. Inside your DropBox folder create a new subfolder named MyKeys or something similar, and make sure you keep this folder private.

3. Now install a KeePass client to all your devices:

4. I suggest you use the desktop client to set up your key file** password database file. Just fire up KeePassX, create a new database, set up a master password, and store the database file into your DropBox folder you created in step 2. You can populate the database with your passwords now, or at any time later.

5. Your password database file should now be synced between all your devices. To open it on Android, simply open DropBox and look for the file you created in the previous step. If KeePassDroid is properly installed, it will pop up and ask you for your master password. Once typed in, your secure passwords will happily reveal themselves.

* In Linux just look for KeePassX in your package repository (Software Center in Ubuntu)
**  See Jason’s comment below

Posted in Howtos, Productivity, The Web | 12 Comments

Run IE9 in Virtualbox for free

Update, 31. march 2013: this article is now out of date. Microsoft now offers free virtual machines and hosted virtualised solutions for cross browser testing at: http://www.modern.ie/en-us/virtualization-tools  (thanks to Graham Ashton for the update).

Like many, I ditched Windows for other operating systems a long time ago and never looked back. But being a web developer I need to be able to test web sites in Internet Explorer. I had briefly considered buying a licence from Microsoft, just to be able to run a virtual copy of Windows 7 with IE9, but luckily Microsoft doesn’t want my money. What’s that, you say? Let me explain.

Microsoft provides “Windows Virtual PC VHDs for testing websites with different Internet Explorer versions” for free on their download page. I downloaded the Windows7 IE9 version, which is quite handy, since IE9 can emulate IE8 and IE7 too.

Once downloaded, I extracted rar files with Ubuntu’s Archive Manager. Then I fired up VirtualBox, created a new WIN7 machine and skipped creating a hard drive. I added the extracted VHD file afterwards, as an IDE drive. This step is important, because running it as  SATA would cause BSOD headaches.

Once it booted, I had no problems getting inside using the “Password1″ password. Windows asked me to activate, but Microsoft advises you skip this step, and extend the testing period by running slmgr –rearm as administrator in the command prompt. This will extend the testing period for 30 days. That’s more than enough: once you’re happy with your virtual image, take a host snapshot and just use it as a starting point if the trial period expires (Microsoft actually encourages that). Don’t forget to install VirtualBox guest additions to enable screen resizing and what not.

References: I found this blog entry very useful (albeit outdated): http://danielmcormond.com/2011/02/21/how-to-use-microsoft-ie-vpc-images-with-virtualbox-on-mac-os-x/

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Logwatch: once a week is enough

If you administer Linux systems, it’s a pretty good idea to keep an eye on the logs. A handy tool that parses your system’s logs and sends you an email report is well known logwatch. By default it sends daily log reports. But to me this is too often. I want weekly reports.

This is how I achieved this on Centos 5.

If they’re not already installed, install logwatch and perl-DateManip

sudo su -
yum install logwatch perl-DateManip

Add a few options to logwatch.conf (I also like my output formatted in html)

echo "Range = between -7 days and -1 days" >> /etc/logwatch/conf/logwatch.conf
echo "Output = html" >> /etc/logwatch/conf/logwatch.conf

By default logwatch installs itself in /etc/cron.daily, you should move it to /etc/cron.weekly

mv /etc/cron.daily/0logwatch /etc/cron.weekly

You can now run a test logwatch and check if it arrives:

/etc/cron.weekly/0logwatch
Posted in Howtos | 10 Comments

Razor-sharp coat hooks

Alexander Kmetec wrote an interesting story, about how a noisy workplace brings productivity down, and how this makes some developers desperate enough to look for cover in light-forsaken places, worthy of Office Space’s Milton Waddams himself. I agree with most of the premise of the piece, however: It doesn’t take two… It only takes one selfish bastard to interrupt everybody and kill the productivity. It also takes just you to interrupt yourself, even if you do camp in the closet space, left alone with your noisy thoughts.
Focus (or lack thereof), has become a big subject of the company I work for, and also my life in general. I find it a precious skill, which I have yet to master, but here’s what I already know: it does pay to invest in it.

What techniques do you use to stay focused?

Posted in Productivity | 1 Comment

Transcoding video is… easy?

Not so long ago I complained how dreadful video transcoding is. Turns out I was just using the wrong software. Thanks to a simple Ubuntu Software Center* search I stumbled upon this gem: Arista Transcoder. I’ve only been using it for a couple of minutes and that was enough to pick the video to transcode, admire the simplicity, speed of the process  and sheer beauty of the software, and donate a few bucks to the author just a few seconds before the processing** was done.

* believe it or not, app store concept was not really invented by Apple.
** here’s the result: http://vimeo.com/18545596

Posted in Awesomeness, Technology | 1 Comment

A WikiLeaks inspired tune – Is That What You Want?

Like many of you, I’ve been closely following the story of WikiLeaks. As it struggles to stay online after their domain-name provider had withdrawn service to the site yesterday – only one day after Amazon.com booted the site off its servers – the whistle-blowing website’s co-founder Julian Assange is on the run from Interpol.

Julian’s arrest is probably just a matter of days, but at this stage I believe this is only going to help the Wikileaks cause. With or without him – this is just to big to ever go away.

It was in April 2009 when WikiLeaks released the Collateral Murder video, and that’s when it stirred my interest. Or my anger… but mostly shame and disgust at what people in power are able, and have always been able to get away with, so easily. I hope to get some of these emotions across with the tune I put together (see below).

I composed the song in Renoise, using free VSTs: ErsDrums, Triangle II, Crystal and some free samples. The audio tracks are taken from YouTube videos: Wikileaks co-founder speaks to Alyona, WikiLeaks Iraq Shooting Video Analysis and WikiLeaks Keynote Address at The Next HOPE. The last one features Jacob Appelbaum of the Tor Project, giving a powerful and moving keynote address at The Next Hope, standing in for Assange who would have risked getting himself arrested had he shown up.

I’d also like to thank my friend Tin Vukadinović for helping me with the mix and mastering.

Feel free to download in MP3 or OGG.

Creative Commons License
Is That What You Want? by Primoz Verdnik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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Noise reduction

Ever since Google introduced Priority Inbox, the important emails have been more successful than ever in getting my full attention on time (or at all). But that doesn’t mean that emails marked as less important don’t have to be dealt with sooner or later. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve made it my mission to unsubscribe from of all the emails I receive periodically, but don’t really read. Mind you, this isn’t spam, just noise. It’s maybe a weekly digest from a random Web 2.0 app I took for a test drive months ago and haven’t used since. It’s a Google alert or perhaps a mailing list about a topic I’ve lost interest in by now. It’s also a bunch of server status reports, stats I don’t really follow, newsletters I rarely read, coupons I never use and the list goes on and on. Being a fan of the Inbox Zero technique I find the result quite liberating and cathartic and I highly recommend the exercise to anyone dealing with email overload.

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