Monthly Archives: April 2014

Assistive Technologies

Need a little extra help using your computer? Linux has some tools to make life easier.

assistMenu -> Preferences  -> Assisted Technologies  will find the above program.  Assisted Technologies will make it easier to do one-handed typing for instance, allowing  you to have for instance, the shift key stick on for the next key press, or have the computer ignore extra key presses if you have fat fingers like I do!assist3

Changing the mouse from right to left-handed, adding a virtual magnifying glass so you can see areas of the screen easier, even turning on speech so your computer can read your emails or chat messages.

The Software Manager has a variety of other useful tools for those of us who need them. Linux is a very friendly operating system for those of us who require a little extra help

Package Manager

We’ve spoken of the Software Manager for adding new programs to your computer. Today we’ll look at the Synaptic Package Manager.

synapticSynaptic has some features that you may find useful. Not only can you you use it to search for and install new software, but you can also use it to find broken packages, and update features like the Linux Kernel.

A broken package can happen when a a hard drive has a bad sector, or if, while installing a new piece of software, you get corrupt data in the download.  After you open Synaptic, at the bottom of the left side menu you will find a Custom Filters button. Click on it, then above that, select Broken. Any package found in the right hand side, can be reinstalled or deleted.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can click on the Upgradable menu selection, and upgrade the Kernel itself, or or upgrade the Linux Firmware as shown here:

synaptic2A word of caution though, upgrading the kernel to a new version might break your system, as can upgrading firmware. The available upgrade in the example above, broke on one of my machines, requiring me to reinstall the previous version. Before you ever make those kinds of changes to your system, always back up your data first!


Remote Administration

We have 11 computers on the farm, 10 running Linux Mint.

With that many machines to take care of and keep updated, I get a hand from an SSH server running on each computer. This is especially helpful for the computer of my autistic adult son. He hates anyone getting near his computer. I used to just VNC into his machine, but that would upset him as he watched his mouse cursor darting around the screen.

Using SSH, I can securely log into his computer, and using command line tools, do the updating from the comfort of my office or bedroom computer.

SSH running in terminal

SSH running in terminal

First thing to do is install the SSH server. Open your Software Manager and search for SSH. The top selection should be the SSH server. Select and install it. Next, on each computer, you should make sure that you have an Administrator account to access. Then make sure that you have given yourself SSH rights.

Once your remote computers are configured, you can open a terminal and connect directly to any computer on your network. Once you have connected, it’s a simple matter to send the commands to start the update process.

First I clean the cache with # sudo apt-get clean

Then you force updates with # sudo apt-get upgrade

Of course while logged in, you can also do directory listings, file deletions or anything else that you might do on your local machine from the terminal window.


Do You UPS?

Power outages are something that can cause real problems with your data. Losing power during a hard drive write can corrupt your data big time. Fix that problem with a uninterpretable power supply or UPS for short.

The UPS can be configured in the dumb mode, where it just turns on during a power failure and provides power for as long as the battery holds out, or smart mode. In smart mode, your UPS will be connected to your computer with a USB cable and will signal the computer to do an orderly shutdown when the power goes out.

Each of our personal computers, along with our household file server, have their own UPS system. Our wireless router and wired switch/firewall also have their own UPS system. In a power failure, all of our systems will stay up and running for a minimum of 30 minutes, and our system that feeds out our live video of our goats will stay up for a full hour.

You don’t have to spend very much money to protect your computer and data. UPS systems can be found for s little as $39, with the sky being the limit. (I used to maintain whole building UPS systems that would keep an entire television station running for at least an hour before the standby generator had to kick in.)

Most of our units are $50 specials we picked up on

The most important thing to do is match your UPS with the load you want to put on it, and how long you expect it to run when the power goes out. Easiest way to calculate that is to use the charts available from the UPS manufacturer. You can also use this handy reference.

So save your computer and data, and spend a few quid!