Archive for November, 2008



BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, is an open-source system that allows volunteers with computers anywhere to donate extra processing power to any of a large group of projects.  The most well-known is probably SETI@home, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, hosted by the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

One of the reasons I love Ubuntu is that it makes it easy to run one of the BOINC projects. (My own is Rosetta@home, which is working on the structures of proteins such as the one believed responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease.)  It is a simple matter of adding boinc-manager and boinc-client.  These can be added by the command:

sudo aptitude install boinc-manager boinc-client

You can then go to Applications>System Tools>BOINC Manager to fire up the software and select a client.  The BOINC website contains a list of projects they have personally checked out (  Once you select your project and set the boinc-manager to run, it will run the computations needed by your project on your spare CPU cycles.  In technical terms this means that “nice” is set at 19, so if you are doing something else that needs CPU access, what you are doing at present will have a higher priority and will run using as much of the CPU as it needs.

One last plug for the boinc-manager and boinc-client from my own personal experience:  I have not known them to cause trouble with my regular computer use.  I know that it is one thing to read the official description of what is supposed to happen, and another thing to check out reality.  The reality here is that you could be personally (along with the researchers, of course) responsible for finding the cure for Alzheimer’s or eliminating malaria – or helping ET phone home 😉 – without doing any more than making sure you have the software up-and-running.

How much better can it get?

Singing the Blues

By now, you may be tired of the ubiquitous “human” colors of Ubuntu, but not know what your options are. My personal favorite color is blue, so I had this problem early on. There are several things you can do to customize your desktop space so the only “blues” you’ll be dealing with are ones that you want there. 🙂

1. Pull up the Synaptic Package Manager and do a search on “themes.” Three in particular are of interest because they are immediate fixes – Blubuntu, Peace and Tropic. Install blubuntu-look, peace-look and tropic-look to get themes, icon sets, wallpaper and GDM themes that may interest you. One of these may be a good base from which to customize. I use part of the Blubuntu set, myself.

The other themes, silicon and outdoors, for instance, are window decorating- themes without extra attachments.

2. Do a search on the word “icon.” There are several icon sets – such as tango, yasis, and variations of dropline, that may be just right for you.

3. Quick searches on “wallpaper” and “background” will yield even more of interest. Some of the best backgrounds included with Ubuntu are packed in gnome-backgrounds.

4. Even more possibilities open up if you install gnome-art. This software will allow you to install extra GDM (gnome display manager) login themes, gtk engines (which decorate aspects of your windows), backgrounds, and icons.

5. If you still aren’t satisfied, consider heading over to or for many extra backgrounds and other possibilities.

Above all, have fun!

Software Sources / Repositories

Ubuntu software is stored in a series of repositories:

1) Canonical-supported (main)

2) Community-maintained open source (universe)

3) Proprietary (restricted) and

4) Software restricted by copyright or legal issues (multiverse).

These categories are set out in System>Administration>Software Sources, under the first tab (Ubuntu Software). (There is also a category for source code.) When you first install Ubuntu, all of these categories are checked ready for download. I generally disable the download of source code by unchecking that box, to speed up the refreshing of sources. I recommend that the other fields remain checked, unless you have concerns about using non-open-source software. My own computer requires proprietary drivers to work.

Besides the official repositories on the first tab. there is a second tab which lists third-party software sources. If you click on the Edit button, you will find that each of these is in the form deb version main (or free non-free, etc.). On my computer, the version is intrepid on the active links.

You may have read a great deal about repositories, pro and con, by now. One thing to be careful about is, does the repository change your main library files that other software that you regularly use depends on? This can cause a failure in software that you have been using without trouble for months.

Now that I have mentioned one caution, let me point out the repositories that I use, also giving the line you will need once you click on Add:

1) Ubuntu Tweak. The line to add its repository is:

deb intrepid main

2) Medibuntu. The line to add it is:

deb free non-free

When you add the Medibuntu repository, you will need to either search for medibuntu-keyring in the Synaptic Package Manager search field so you can add it, or run the command sudo apt-get install medibuntu-keyring. Either will tell apt that the keys it needs to verify the repository are now available.

Ubuntu Tweak, once installed (sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak) contains a list of further repositories which you can enable. I recommend at the least enabling the Google repository, if you want to try Google Desktop or Picasa.

I myself do not recommend including a cutting edge Firefox repository simply because the RSS feed readers I use depend on a stable version of certain files that are in the Ubuntu repository but not the test repositories. It took me a while to find out why my beloved Liferea wouldn’t work one time. I have not messed with unofficial Firefox repositories since.

I apologize – since I am such an avid Firefox user, I forgot to mention Opera. This is in the partner repository. The partner repository, which is already present but will need to be checked if you use it, also contains other useful third party software like the updated Adobe flash plugin, so I recommend checking it.

The third tab under Software Sources lists which updates you wish to be informed about and use. I recommend selecting all of them, but if you are more cautious you may not wish to select the pre-released updates. Whether you consider intrepid-proposed (for instance) depends on what level of bugs you wish to tolerate. If the level is fairly close to 0, you may want to select only the other 3 categories (security, recommended and backports).

If you are still using Hardy you may want to consider permitting normal release upgrades so that you can get to Intrepid. This comes under the section Release upgrade.

Hope this helps!

How to Clean up after an Upgrade

If you have, like I have, recently upgraded from Hardy Heron (8.04) to Intrepid Ibex (8.10), you probably have some “cruft” lying around your system. Here are a few suggestions on how to clean up your system.

1. Use the Synaptic Package Manager to remove outdated files.

This means you go to System>Administration>Synaptic Package Manager, and click on Origin (third section on the left-hand bottom side). This will give you your software, by origins such as Local, and the various Ubuntu archives.

Under Local, you should see only programs you installed from other sources (such as Getdeb or CNR). If you find an earlier Linux module or other unrecognizable software, it is time to mark these for complete removal. (Regular removal leaves configuration files lying around. You do not need them.)

Once you have gotten rid of the obsolete programs, you then may go to the second section on the left-hand bottom side, Status. II you have files that have already been deleted but have residual configuration files lying around, here is the place where you can mark these for complete removal.

2. Install and run localepurge.

If you are still in the Synaptic Package Manager, the easiest way to do this is to type “localepurge” (without the quotes) under Quick Search. Once you install localepurge, you will need to run it for the first time:

sudo localepurge

This will get rid of software translations in languages you do not use. These can take up quite a bit of room. (After you run localepurge for the first time, after each subsequent install it will be run again, and keep the excess files off your system.)

3. Install gtkorphan and run it.

If you have not yet done so, installing gtkorphan can make your cruft-cleaning experience much easier. Once again it is easy to search for under Quick Search.

Once you have installed it, you can get to it via System>Administration>Remove orphaned packages. The first section you get to gives a list of libraries whose applications have been removed. These libraries are no longer needed, so here you just need to click on each of them and then click on OK. This will clean up these files.

The second thing you can do with gtkorphan is to remove obsolete configuration files (as you also did under #1). To do this, click on “Show uninstalled packages with orphaned configuration files.” This will list any obsolete configuration files left after you removed the unnecessary files above.

4. install Ubuntu Tweak and use its facility to delete unneeded packages and the old .debs that are lying around.

The best way to install Ubuntu Tweak is to add the following line to your /etc/apt/sources.list – either by editing that file or adding the line via System>Administration>Software Sources:

deb intrepid main

This will add the Ubuntu Tweak repository to your software list, so that all you will need to do is to add it via the Synaptic Package Manager (it is listed as ubuntu-tweak).

Once you have installed Ubuntu Tweak, start it up via Applications>System Tools>Ubuntu Tweak. Now, you can click on Applications on the menu on the left-hand side, then click on Package Cleaner. Now, unlock the screen by clicking on the word unlock on the right-hand side, and you can start cleaning up obsolete packages or the entire cache of .deb files.

Please let me know of any other suggestions. I hope this makes your life easier!


November 2008
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