Minimalism & Debian

Less is more, as the saying goes.

While I love using Fedora in my daily work, sometimes when I want to relax I find using an alternative distribution is good therapy.  Fedora is fabulous with its GNOME Shell finery, but occasionally I hanker for something simpler and more lightweight.  It’s also good to see how the other half lives 🙂

So, I decided to put Debian on my netbook.  With no GUI.  Everything I do on it must be by the command line, including web research.  Compared to Fedora, Debian‘s system requirements are practically non-existent, which is especially good if you want your system to still run nice and quick.

First steps…

  1. Firstly, I had of course to grab the distribution.  I’m not over-fussed about running cutting edge stuff on this machine.  For me, the most important thing is a low-maintenance base where I don’ t need to think much about the distribution changing every 6 months.

    I visited the Debian Mirror List and grabbed a NetInst CD image.

  2. Next off, I plugged in the USB CD/DVD drive and installed the software, making sure I didn’t overwrite my XP partition.  Well, you need a reminder every so often how awful life used to be.. 😉
  3. I won’t go into the installation process here – there’s plenty of documentation elsewhere which covers that.  So, once installed, I really wanted to keep the installed software as trim as possible.  That is, with one or two exceptions…
  1. Firstly, I have tried and tried it again but I just can’t/don’t/won’t do vi, vim or anything similar.  It’s just not my bag.  It’s emacs for me.  I also want to keep my mail inside emacs, so it’s goodbye to mutt – even if it does suck less, apparently 😉
  2. Also, Exim4.  The servers I manage don’t use it (generally it’s Postfix or QMail) and I already have a tiny smattering of Sendmail knowledge – so I have no desire to pick up on this.  I’m sure it’s a fine MTA and undoubtedly there are many technical reasons why I should keep it on my netbook… but even so, no thanks.

    Therefore, my software changes are:

    $ sudo aptitude remove exim4 exim4-base exim4-config exim4-daemon-light vi mutt

    $ sudo aptitude install emacs w3m-el sendmail

  • So far so good.  However, I was still stuck with a chunky 80×25 character screen when booting up, which is real ugly.  Through much searching and grub configuration editing, I found that my answer was actually to install the intel video package.

    $ sudo aptitude install xserver-xorg-video-intel

    You’re on to a winner here, because Debian Squeeze is already set up for Kernel Mode Setting.  In other words, as soon as your system starts booting up, the video drivers get loaded and the optimal video mode is enabled (or, at least, that’s the intention).

    Whether or not it’s worth specifying screenmode in grub is open for debate.  FWIW, I put this in /etc/default/grub:


    … And in /etc/grub.d/40_custom:

    set gfxpayload=1024x600x16

    Then, I simply updated grub with the new config:

    $ sudo update-grub

    Please note that this step relates to my Intel-based netbook.  Yours may vary.

  • The only significant piece of the puzzle remaining was to get wireless sorted out and connect to my server:

    $ sudo aptitude install wireless-tools iw wpasupplicant autofs nfs-common

    ** PLEASE NOTE: this step assumes your wireless network device doesn’t require firmware or that you already have the firmware installed in /lib/firmware. **

    Once done, you need to uncomment the /net line in /etc/auto.master and restart autofs:

    $ service restart autofs

    If you want to refer to server by hostname and are not running a DNS server, add the hostname to /etc/hosts (somewhere below the localhost lines):

    111.222.333.444  myserver

    At this point, assuming all went well, you can cd to /net/ in either the shell or a file manager such as nautilus (if running a GUI).

    So, this takes care of a basic local network configuration, but we still need to actually get connected to it on wifi.  So, there is, in my /etc/network/interfaces:

    # The loopback network interface
    auto lo
    iface lo inet loopback

    # The primary network interface
    allow-hotplug eth0
    iface eth0 inet dhcp

    # Wireless
    auto wlan0
    iface wlan_mynet inet dhcp
    wpa_ssid my-network-ssid
    wpa-psk  my-network-key

    Once done, save this file and change the permissions for extra security:

    $ sudo chmod 0600 /etc/network/interfaces

    – and connect up, like this:

    $ sudo ifup wlan0=wlan_mynet

  • Voila!  With luck, maybe a little patience, and possibly an extra step or two (which you can hopefully figure out, if needed) these are the key set up steps which will make your netbook/laptop nice and lean, and perhaps more fun to play with.

    Next time, I’ll go through a few tools I use for ‘net stuff.

    So, from time to time (read: most of the time) when I’m working I listen to music.  More often than not, it’s electronic in one form or another.

    The point of this post is simply to list a few stations I like listening to, to build up my collection.  If it grows over time, I’ll probably divide into genres or something.

    Here’s a few to get started with.

    Radio Schizoid : :

    Chromanova :

    Digitally Imported Goa-Psy Trance :

    After Hours – Trance :

    PsyMusic UK :

    Bassdrive :

    I work daily with visual designers and am constantly in awe of their skills.  Visual design makes so much in life interesting.  Playing with logos and branding is always a fun thing to do, as it offers a counterpoint in thinking about who the people are behind the image.

    Here are a few of my favourite images, spotted across other blogs and RSS feeds…

    21st Century drug


    The origins of logos


    Honest Logos




    Enjoy 🙂

    Linux User & Developer magazine
    – a good read while having your car MOT’d

    I was delighted to take my car to Swiftest in Aldershot this morning, for one simple reason (see pic – and no, it wasn’t because of the coffee, although that helps!)

    Female Friendly policy:
    A Good ThingTM

    In fact, there are two good reasons to use Swiftest in Aldershot.  Three, actually.

    First, the aforementioned reading material.

    Second, the professional, helpful and polite staff (Rob, James & co).

    Lastly, it has to be the “Female Friendly” policy.  I was there first thing (7:30am) for my car to be MOT’d, and the only other two customers to come in at this early hour were both female.  I’d say that was testimony enough.

    I recently ‘dented’ (tweeted on a question to a group of software developers: what music do they listen to that is conducive to coding?I received a variety of answers, with just as wide-ranging tastes as you could expect, really. Clearly, I hadn’t conducted a very economic experiment. Perhaps I was asking the wrong question.

    The question I should have asked is this: which music do you listen to that evokes a calm, creative and logical state of mind? In other words, I needed to key-word the question to (a) elicit greater impact on the reader and (b) give the question more scope, more context.

    The premise of the question is the science behind brainwaves. Apparently, alpha waves in the brain (those which occur at between 8-13Hz [cycles per second]) are the most conducive to creative AND logical thinking. It is commonly associated with a meditative state of mind, deeply relaxed, daydreaming, fantasizing and creatively visualising various scenarios.

    This dispels some notion that left brain/right brain dominance exists. I can’t remember which is which, but it is said that the right hemisphere is more creative and the left, more logical/analytical. Or vice versa.

    But this alpha wave state could, in fact, also support such dominance, if it allowed for the idea of submission of the dominant region during periods of relaxation. In other words, we will have one personality profile when active, busy, even stressed, and another profile when relaxed, calm, clear.

    It follows, then, the people seeking to produce creative works – whether it be software code, writing, visual art or music, should always seek the best environment to create alpha brain waves. Music is just one component; meditation, light scents, lighting, physical comfort and staying hydrated also contribute, as does the avoidance of caffiene and alcohol.

    But for me, most of all, it’s music.  And quite often, that’s trance. 😉

    Some time ago, mainly because my then-girlfriend bought me 3 Hacky Sacks (or ‘juggling balls‘, as they seem to be known these days), I took it upon myself to learn how to juggle.
    An image of three juggling balls

    The learning process is actually quite simple.  This is the method I have used:

    1. With two in one hand (e.g. left) and one in the other, throw up one (of the two) first and simply catch it with the other hand.
    2. Then, repeat but throw back from the right to the left.

      Completing just this first step is the key to learning how to juggle. 

      Continue to practice this method, tossing the sack from one to the other hand.  When you can always catch it, try the next step:

    3. When the ball is up in the air, throw the opposite ball up too.  The best time to throw it is just before the first ball reaches the parabolic peak (the top of the arc of travel).   Now that your second hand is free, catch the first ball.
    4. If you can, try to catch the second ball as well, using your first hand – just as you have already practised.

      Once you have got this far, you are well on the way to becoming an expert! 😉

    5. It goes without saying that, to improve, you need to throw the third ball into the air before catching either the first, or the second.

    The paradox

    This is the secret to success.  In order to successfully catch, time after time, you must successfully throw.  In other words, to hold on, you have to let go.

    Perhaps it can be best summarised with a quote from Star Wars.  When Princess Leia is speaking to Governer Tarkin, shortly before he destroys the planet of Dantooine, she says (paraphrased), “the more you tighten your grip, the more will slip through your fingers”.

    Hot off the press is v1.4.5 of Mark Hershberger’s weblogger, an extension to GNU Emacs / XEmacs which allows blogging from within the Emacs editor environment.

    Early indications are good – for me at least. I have found the process of setting up and using weblogger a bit tricky, at times, so it’s encouraging to see that I can at least add this blog entry fairly easily.

    Now, which is that “publish blog” keystroke…? 😉