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Updated: 57 min 46 sec ago

The department of dirty

Thu, 24/07/2014 - 10:03

I quite like the Open Rights Group‘s new campaign against internet filtering

The Department of Dirty is working with internet and mobile companies to stop the dirty internet. We are committed to protecting children and adults from online filth such as:

  • Talk to Frank: This government website tries to educate young people about drugs. We all know what ‘education’ means, don’t we? Blocked by Three.
  • Girl Guides Essex: They say, ‘guiding is about acquiring skills for life’. We say, why would young girls need skills? Blocked by BT.
  • South London Refugee Association: This charity aims to relieve poverty and distress. Not on our watch they don’t. Blocked by BT, EE, Sky and VirginMedia
We need you to help us take a stand against blogs, charities and education websites, all of which are being blocked [1]. It’s time to stop this sick filth. Together, we can clean up the
Categories: LUG Community Blogs

HP 255 G1 Laptop with Ubuntu

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:08

At work I needed a cheap laptop for a computer-illiterate user. Giving them Windows, would have meant that they would have had to keep up-to-date with Windows Updates, with all the potential issues that would cause, along with the need for malware protection. It would also have pushed up the cost, a laptop capable of pushing Windows along reasonably decently, would have cost a few hundred pounds at least.

Generally I would just have purchased a low-end Lenovo laptop and installed Ubuntu onto it, but I was aware that Ebuyer had recently launched an HP255 G1 Laptop with Ubuntu pre-installed for £219.99 inc. vat (just £183 if you can reclaim the VAT).

Buying pre-installed with Ubuntu afforded me the comfort of knowing that everything would work. Whilst Ubuntu generally does install very easily, there are sometimes hassles in getting some of the function buttons working, for brightness, volume etc. Knowing that these issues would all be sorted, along with saving me the time in having to install Ubuntu, seemed an attractive proposition.


My first impressions were good, the laptop comes with a laptop case and the laptop itself looks smart enough for a budget machine. An Ubuntu sticker, instead of the usual Windows sticker, was welcome, although the two sticky marks where previous stickers had been removed were less so. Still, at least they had been removed.

Whilst we are on the subject of Windows’ remnants – the Getting Started leaflet was for Windows 8 rather than Ubuntu. Most Ubuntu users won’t care, but this is a poor attention to detail and, if this laptop is to appeal to the mass market, then it may cause confusion.

First Boot

Booting up the laptop for the first time gave me an “Essential First Boot Set-up is being performed. Please wait.” message. I did wait and for quite a considerable time – probably a not dissimilar time to installing Ubuntu from scratch; I couldn’t help but suspect that was precisely what was happening. Eventually I was presented with a EULA from HP, which I had no choice but to accept or choose to re-install from scratch. Finally I was presented with an Ubuntu introduction, which I confess I skipped; suffice to say the new user was welcomed to Ubuntu with spinny things.

The first thing to note is that this is Ubuntu 12.04, the previous LTS (Long Term Support release). This will be supported until 2017, but it is a shame that it didn’t have the latest LTS release – Ubuntu 14.04. Users may of course choose to upgrade.

Secondly, the wireless was slow to detect the wireless access points on the network. Eventually I decided to restart network-manager, but just as I was about to do so, it suddenly sprang into life and displayed all the local access points. Once connected, it will re-connect quickly enough, but it does seem to take a while to scan new networks. Or perhaps I am just too impatient.

Ubuntu then prompted to run some updates, but the updates failed, as “” was said to be unreachable, even though it was ping-able. The address is owned by Canonical, but whether this was a momentary server error, or some misconfiguration on the laptop, I have no idea.

This would have been a major stumbling block for a new Ubuntu user. Running apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade worked fine, typing Ctrl+Alt+t to bring up the terminal and then typing:

$ sudo apt-get update $ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

I notice that this referenced an HP-specific repository doubtless equipped with hardware specific packages: precise-oem.sp1 public precise-stella-anaheim public

I assume that adding this latter repository would be a good idea if purchasing a Windows version of this laptop and installing Ubuntu.


This is a typical chunky laptop.  But, if you were expecting a sleek Air-like laptop for £220, then you need to take a reality shower. What it is, is a good-looking, well-made, traditional laptop from a quality manufacturer. At this price, that really should be enough.

Ubuntu “System Details” reveals that this is running an “AMD E1-1500 APU with Radeon HD Graphics x 2″, running 64-bit with a 724GB drive and 3.5GiB RAM. That would appear to be a lower spec processor than is typically available on-line for an HP 255 G1 running Windows; which generally seem to have 1.75Ghz processors (albeit at twice the price).

The great news was that, as expected, all the buttons worked. So what? Well, it may seem like a trivial matter whether, for example, pressing Fn10 increases the volume or not, but I think many of us have the experience of spending inordinate amounts of time trying to get such things to work properly. And buttons that don’t work, continue to irritate until the day you say goodbye to that machine. The fact that everything works as it should is enormously important and is the primary reason why buying Ubuntu pre-installed is such a big deal.

The keyboard and trackpad seem perfectly good enough to me, certainly much better than on my Novatech ultrabook; although not everyone seems to like them. In particular, it is good to have a light on the caps lock key.

I have not tested battery life, but, as this is usually the first thing to suffer in an entry-level machine, I would not hope for much beyond a couple of hours.

For other details on hardware, please refer to the product information and read more reviews here.


Booting up takes around 45 seconds and a further 20 seconds to reach the desktop. That is quite a long time these days for Ubuntu, but fast enough I would imagine for most users and considerably faster than it takes Windows to reach a usable state, at least in my experience.

Being that bit slower to boot, Suspend becomes more important: Closing the lid suspended the laptop and opening it again brought up the lock screen password prompt almost immediately. Repeated use showed this to work reliably.

As to system performance, well frankly this is not a fast laptop. Click on Chromium, post boot, and it takes about 9 seconds to load; LibreOffice takes about 6 seconds to load. Even loading System Settings takes a second or two. Once you’ve run them once, after each boot, they will load again in less than half the time. Despite the slow performance, it is always perfectly usable, and is absolutely fine for email and web-browsing applications.

The other thing to remember is that this will be the performance you should be able to expect throughout its life – i.e. it will not slow down even more as it gets older. Windows users typically expect their computers to slow down over time, largely because of the different way in which system and application settings are stored in Windows. Ubuntu does not suffer from this problem, meaning that a 5-year-old Ubuntu installation should be working as fast as it did when it was first installed.


I struggle to think of what else you could buy that provides a full desktop experience for £220. And it isn’t even some cheap unbranded laptop from the developing world. Sure, it isn’t the fastest laptop around, but it is perfectly fast enough for web, email and office documents. And the fact that you can expect it to continue working, with few, if any, worries about viruses, makes it ideal for many users. It certainly deserves to be a success for HP, Ubuntu and Ebuyer.

But, whilst this low-price, low-power combination was ideal for me on this occasion, it is a shame that there are no other choices available pre-installed with Ubuntu. I wonder how many newcomers to Ubuntu will come with the belief that Ubuntu is slow, when in reality it is the low-end hardware that is to blame?

Please HP, Ubuntu and Ebuyer – give us more choice.

And Lenovo, please take note – you just lost a sale.

For more reviews please visit Reevo.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Creating Time-lapse Videos on Ubuntu

Thu, 03/07/2014 - 16:17

I’ve previously blogged about how I sometimes setup a webcam to take pictures and turn them into videos. I thought I’d update that here with something new I’ve done, fully automated time lapse videos on Ubuntu. Here’s when I came up with:-

(apologies for the terrible music, I added that from a pre-defined set of options on YouTube)

(I quite like the cloud that pops into existence at ~27 seconds in)

Over the next few weeks there’s an Air Show where I live and the skies fill with all manner of strange aircraft. I’m usually working so I don’t always see them as they fly over, but usually hear them! I wanted a way to capture the skies above my house and make it easily available for me to view later.

So my requirements were basically this:-

  • Take pictures at fairly high frequency – one per second – the planes are sometimes quick!
  • Turn all the pictures into a time lapse video – possibly at one hour intervals
  • Upload the videos somewhere online (YouTube) so I can view them from anywhere later
  • Delete all the pictures so I don’t run out of disk space
  • Automate it all
Taking the picture

I’ve already covered this really, but for this job I have tweaked the .webcamrc file to take a picture every second, only save images locally & not to upload them. Here’s the basics of my .webcamrc:-

[ftp] dir = /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/current file = webcam.jpg tmp = uploading.jpeg debug = 1 local = 1 [grab] device = /dev/video0 text = popeycam %Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S fg_red = 255 fg_green = 0 fg_blue = 0 width = 1280 height = 720 delay = 1 brightness = 50 rotate = 0 top = 0 left = 0 bottom = -1 right = -1 quality = 100 once = 0 archive = /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/archive/%Y/%m/%d/%H/snap%Y-%m-%d-%H-%M-%S.jpg

Key things to note, “delay = 1″ gives us an image every second. The archive directory is where the images will be stored, in sub-folders for easy management and later deletion. That’s it, put that in the home directory of the user taking pictures and then run webcam. Watch your disk space get eaten up.

Making the video

This is pretty straightforward and can be done in various ways. I chose to do two-pass x264 encoding with mencoder. In this snippet we take the images from one hour – in this case midnight to 1AM on 2nd July 2014 – from /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/archive/2014/07/02/00 and make a video in /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/2014070200.avi and a final output in /home/alan/Videos/webcam/2014070200.avi which is the one I upload.

mencoder "mf:///home/alan/Pictures/webcam/archive/2014/07/02/00/*.jpg" -mf fps=60 -o /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/2014070200.avi -ovc x264 -x264encopts direct=auto:pass=1:turbo:bitrate=9600:bframes=1:me=umh:partitions=all:trellis=1:qp_step=4:qcomp=0.7:direct_pred=auto:keyint=300 -vf scale=-1:-10,harddup mencoder "mf:///home/alan/Pictures/webcam/archive/2014/07/02/00/*.jpg" -mf fps=60 -o /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/2014070200.avi -ovc x264 -x264encopts direct=auto:pass=2:bitrate=9600:frameref=5:bframes=1:me=umh:partitions=all:trellis=1:qp_step=4:qcomp=0.7:direct_pred=auto:keyint=300 -vf scale=-1:-10,harddup -o /home/alan/Videos/webcam/2014070200.avi Upload videos to YouTube

The project youtube-upload came in handy here. It’s pretty simple with a bunch of command line parameters – most of which should be pretty obvious – to upload to youtube from the command line. Here’s a snippet with some credentials redacted.

python youtube_upload/ --email=########## --password=########## --private --title="2014070200" --description="Time lapse of Farnborough sky at 00 on 02 07 2014" --category="Entertainment" --keywords="timelapse" /home/alan/Videos/webcam/2014070200.avi

I have set the videos all to be private for now, because I don’t want to spam any subscriber with a boring video of clouds every hour. If I find an interesting one I can make it public. I did consider making a second channel, but the youtube-upload script (or rather the YouTube API) doesn’t seem to support specifying a different channel from the default one. So I’d have to switch to a different channel by default work around this, and then make them all public by default, maybe.

In addition YouTube sends me a “Well done Alan” patronising email whenever a video is upload, so I know when it breaks, I stop getting those mails.

Delete the pictures

This is easy, I just rm the /home/alan/Pictures/webcam/archive/2014/07/02/00 directory once the upload is done. I don’t bother to check if the video uploaded okay first because if it fails to upload I still want to delete the pictures, or my disk will fill up. I already have the videos archived, so can upload those later if the script breaks.

Automate it all

webcam is running constantly in a ‘screen’ window, that part is easy. I could detect when it dies and re-spawn it maybe. It has been known to crash now and then. I’ll get to that when that happens

I created a cron job which runs at 10 mins past the hour, and collects all the images from the previous hour.

10 * * * * /home/alan/bin/

I learned the useful “1 hour ago” option to the GNU date command. This lets me pick up the images from the previous hour and deals with all the silly calculation to figure out what the previous hour was.

Here (on github) is the final script. Don’t laugh.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Ubuntu Online Summit ‘Ask Rick and Olli’ Session

Wed, 11/06/2014 - 12:31

One of the things we’re keen to continue to push with Ubuntu is a spirit of openness and inclusivity. Over the last couple of years with the reduction in ‘in person’ Ubuntu Developer Summits it’s been said Canonical developers are harder to reach, and that we’re not communicating effectively our plans and designs for the future direction of Ubuntu. We’ve been trying to address this via increased blogging, regular email status updates and video updates from all areas of the community.

As always we’re also keen to hear feedback, we welcome email discussion on our lists, bug reports, design mock-ups and of course well tested patches. We also want to ensure people at every level are available for Q&A sessions on a regular basis. Jono Bacon had a series of Q&A sessions which the Community Team will continue, but with additional domain experts and leaders during those sessions.

One of the biggest visible areas of change for Ubuntu is the transition from Unity 7 on Compiz (used in 14.04 and below) and Unity 8 and Mir (to be used in future releases). So today this weeks Ubuntu Online Summit we’ve arranged a couple of sessions which we invited participation in.

At 14:00 UTC today Rick Spencer (VP of Engineering) and Oliver (Olli) Ries (Director of Unity & Display Server) will hold an Ask Rick & Olli session. Bring along your questions about Unity, Mir, convergence, future desktop direction and more.

An hour later at 15:00 UTC we have a Convergence Progress Report session where you can get an update on where we stand with our converged vision, and of course participate on the hangout or via IRC.

Click the time links above to find out when these are happening in your timezone today, and the other links to join in the sessions at that time. If you miss it you can watch the sessions later using the same links.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Go-kart Repair

Sun, 08/06/2014 - 20:30

At a dinner party a few months ago, the host asked if I could repair their go-kart, using my RepRap 3D Printer. Apparently the steering wheel had broken off and the Chinese supplier refused to supply only the steering wheel. I accepted the challenge, but did warn that PLA was not the ideal plastic for such a repair, being somewhat brittle.

I decided to approach the problem by removing all the broken plastic from the back of the steering wheel, and designing a new part to slot over the steering column nut and bolt onto the remains of the steering wheel.

Having designed the part, I posted it to Google+ for advice. Wildseyed Cabrer suggested that I do away with the buttresses of v1 and instead design a solid cylinder. Of particular interest was his suggestion to use pinholes around the nut hole, to force the slicing program to add reinforcement. Andreas Thorn reminded me to use the $fn = 6 for the chamfering of the nut hole, as I had for the nut hole itself. The Google+ 3D printing community really is amazing – thank you.

Unfortunately printing the item was much delayed by the fact that I did not have the precise measurements. As always I had designed the item to be fully parametric; so that the exact measurements didn’t matter until I came to print. Unfortunately the owners of the go-kart did not feel able to accurately take the measurement; so instead the go-kart had to be delivered to our house.

Having measured and printed the final part, I was delighted that it all worked first time. The only issue was that it was very difficult to turn the wheel and I was concerned that the part would not indeed be strong enough. I noticed that all four tyres were completely flat, so much so that the tyre profile was concave rather than convex. This was clearly putting a huge strain on the steering and may well have been a contributory factor in the original breakage. Having pumped up all the tyres the steering was very much easier.

The repair complete, the go-kart was delivered back to the owners. I have no idea whether the repair will last long enough to be worthwhile, but providing it lasts a reasonable time, it can of course be simply reprinted. We could also consider having it professionally printed in a stronger plastic.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

Ubuntu LTSP Video

Tue, 22/04/2014 - 15:15

Thought this was an excellent video introduction to LTSP.

Categories: LUG Community Blogs

School is in session

Tue, 08/04/2014 - 15:59
I’ve had a lot of travel lately and I’ve had some time to think, when you take a step back and look at technology you realise it’s always changing always developing updating and adding new features.  It got me thinking, I should also keep updating my knowledge bank. It’s all well and good to talk […]
Categories: LUG Community Blogs