HostUS VPS Specials

These are two specials that HostUS is offering on their OpenVZ VPS services. It hasn’t been stated when the specials will end, but I’d grab them while they’re available if you’re in the market. Beyond the specials, they appear to have very affordable VPS options available, and I believe they’re in the process of adding KVM options as well. Worth a look if you are considering purchasing a VPS.

768MB RAM / 768MB vSwap
1 vCPU Core (Fair Share)
20 GB Disk Space
2048 GB Bandwidth / 1Gbit Uplink (Fair Share)
1x IPv4 address / 4 x IPv6 Addresses
OpenVZ/In-House Panel
$10/year (Click Here)

6GB RAM / 6GB vSwap
4 vCPU Cores (Fair Share)
150GB Disk space
5TB Bandwidth / 1Gbit/s port
3 x IPv4 address / 4 x IPv6 Addresses
OpenVZ/In-House Control Panel
$18/quarter or $65/year (Click Here)


Re-Formatting a USB Drive with GTP Data (Mac) in Ubuntu

I ran into a problem the other day when I decided to create a bootable USB drive for upgrading my fiancée’s Mac to OSX Yosemite.

After creating the drive with the bootable upgrade data, I decided to reformat the USB drive back for my typical use. This particular USB drive is one that I’ve used primarily for installing OS’s, so I regularly wipe it and use it to boot as a live USB for various Linux distros whenever I want to test something or (re)install it. However, I found that I couldn’t format this drive and use it to boot an OS as I had done before. GParted would perform the formatting action and partition the drive, but I could not get it to mirror the same Partition Type of W95 FAT32 (LBA) as the other drives I had. Whatever the problem was, it also caused Ubuntu’s Startup Disk Creator to be unable to perform the Erase Disk function on the drive without giving a long error that ended with the explanation of an invalid UUID. Searching for this error came up with nothing. So, snooping around, I decided to try formatting the drive via terminal, and that’s when fdisk gave me an error stating the the drive had GPT data, which is’t supported by fdisk.

A little more snooping online led me to this page, where an explanation of removing GPT data (used by Mac) was given. Following the steps outlined on that page using gdisk, and then following up with formatting via terminal with fdisk to reformat the drive as W95 FAT32 (LBA) type, the problem was finally resolved.

I’ll outline the steps, from beginning to end, for removing the GTP data and formatting back to FAT32, which I assume is how most USB flash drives are formatted by default.

First, issue the following command:

sudo fdisk -l

Note that you must issue the command with sudo, or else it will output nothing. Find your drive in the list of devices and it should have a line similar to:

   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sdX1               1  4294967295  2147483647+  ee  GPT

The values for Device, Start, End and Blocks will vary, but the value for Id and System will be ee and GTP as shown. Make note of the device’s designation, as it is important that you perform the next tasks on the correct device to avoid data loss or compromising your PC. Also be aware that some external hard drives are formatted this way (the above output that I used is of an external drive that I have that happened to be formatted to fit the example), so make sure you don’t mistake the wrong device for the one you’re meaning to format.

Now that we know the device we need to reformat, we have to use gdisk to remove the GPT data for us. fdisk does not support GPT data types.

gdisk /dev/sdX

I decided to call my device for the example sdX, where X would be the letter assigned to your device. In most cases, unless you’re performing this on the drive that your PC boots from, you’ll likely not be using sda or sdb. Otherwise, you may want to refer to Rod Smith’s steps that explain how to backup the drive’s MBR data. Since this post is meant to cover an external USB flash drive (per my personal situation), I won’t include those steps.

The above command will output something similar to:

GPT fdisk (gdisk) version 0.7.2

Partition table scan:
  MBR: MBR only
  BSD: not present
  APM: not present
  GPT: present

Found valid MBR and GPT. Which do you want to use?
 1 - MBR
 2 - GPT
 3 - Create blank GPT

Your answer:

In my case, I wasn’t asked which partition table to use, because MBR was restricted – causing GPT to be the only one available. However, it doesn’t matter which one you choose, if asked, since we’re wiping the GPT data and not looking to convert or salvage data.

You’ll be presented with a command prompt:

Command (? for help):

The remainder of the command prompts should be issued as:

Command (? for help): x

Expert command (? for help): z
About to wipe out GPT on /dev/sdX. Proceed? (Y/N): y
Blank out MBR? (Y/N): n

Make sure you answer n when asked if you want to blank out the MBR. This may not be as crucial for a USB flash drive, but wiping the MBR on a drive that you use to boot from would be disastrous (especially if you didn’t back it up beforehand).

The next steps are actually formatting the drive using fdisk. Substituting in sdX for your drive’s device, enter the following commands when prompted in the order shown to perform the format of the drive. Note: output has been omitted. Where no response is shown for command prompt, simply hit enter.

sudo fdisk /dev/sdX
Command (m for help): p
Command (m for help): d
Command (m for help): p
Command (m for help): w
sudo fdisk /dev/sdX
Command (m for help): n
Command (m for help): p
Partition number (1-4): 1
First cylinder (1-1020, default 1):
Last cylinder, +cylinders or +size{K,M,G} (?-????, default ????):
Command (m for help): t
Hex code (type L to list codes): L

At this point, you’ll be presented with a list of all device types you can format the drive to using fdisk. In this case, I wanted W95 FAT32 (LBA), so I chose b

Hex code (type L to list codes): b
Command (m for help): a
Partition number (1-4): 1
Command (m for help): p
Command (m for help): w

Finally, we can format the drive:

sudo mkdosfs -F 32 /dev/sdX1

The last command could technically be handled via Disk manager or GParted, if you wanted a user interface instead of terminal, but it would make sense to just issue the command in terminal since we’re already working in terminal for the rest of the steps.

phpMyAdmin: Missing Mcrypt Extension

If you’ve set up a web server recently that included PHP, you likely installed PHP’s Mcrypt extension. However, a lot of explanations on setting up a LAMP web server mention installing the extension, but not enabling it. If you’ve installed phpMyAdmin, you have likely seen the The mcrypt extension is missing. Please check your PHP configuration. error message at the bottom of the initial page after logging in.

Fixing this issue is as simple as two commands, at least in Ubuntu/Debian.

sudo php5enmod mcrypt
sudo service apache2 reload

You’ll have to log back into phpMyAdmin once you’ve reloaded Apache’s configuration, but you’ll see the error message is now gone.

If you didn’t actually install the Mcrypt extension when you installed PHP, you can do that before entering the above commands by first entering:

sudo apt-get install php5-mcrypt

If you’re unsure if Mcrypt has been installed, you can check for it by entering:

apt-cache policy php5-mcrypt

The output of the apt-cache policy php5-mcrypt command on a system where the package is not installed will look something like:

  Installed: (none)
  Candidate: 5.4.6-0ubuntu5
  Version table:
     5.4.6-0ubuntu5 0
        500 trusty/universe amd64 Packages

If it is installed, it would look something like:

  Installed: 5.4.6-0ubuntu5
  Candidate: 5.4.6-0ubuntu5
  Version table:
 *** 5.4.6-0ubuntu5 0
        500 trusty/universe amd64 Packages
        100 /var/lib/dpkg/status

Some information would vary, depending on the OS and the repositories your server uses, but the output of the command would be roughly the same (on Debian/Ubuntu), and will tell you if the package is installed and what version. You can also use this command to see what version any particular package is on the repositories your Ubuntu/Debian installation pulls from.

Linux Mint with MATE and Cinnamon

Linux Mint ships with several options for desktop environments, but the two most advertised are MATE and Cinnamon – with Cinnamon being its primary candidate.

When you install Mint, you typically have to decide which desktop you want, because each has its own installation package. What you may not know, however, is that you can actually install one version of Mint and still have both options for your desktop environment. The best part is that you don’t even have to get your hands dirty with the command line interface to do it.

Here are the steps:

  1. After you have installed Mint, login and open the Software Manager. It is usually to the left in the Menu for both MATE and Cinnamon.
  2. If you have MATE version installed, search for Cinnamon. If you have Cinnamon, search for MATE.
  3. If you’re looking to add the Cinnamon desktop onto a MATE installation, you need to look for cinnamon and mint-meta-cinnamon packages in the top results, and install those two. For installing MATE within a Cinnamon installation, it’s the opposite: mate and mint-meta-mate. These two packages will install the desktop environments and the key packages that they need. A lot of the other results you see in your search will actually be included with the installation of those two.
  4. After the installation has completed, log out of your session and click the icon at the top-right of the sign in box on the login screen and you can now select between the two different desktop environments for your session.

Netflix Official Linux Support

There’s finally an officially supported way to watch Netflix on Linux without jumping hurdles through various methods that try to work around their Silverlight requirement.

Perhaps they’re copying the same method that allows Chromebook users to stream Netflix, but it requires the Chrome browser in Linux to do it. Before I did this, I attempted to install and configure Pipelight to see if I could stream a show in Firefox, and I was met with the incompatibility page. So, I removed Pipelight and installed Chrome. Went to Netflix, logged in and the show I tried to view opened up without a hitch – lacking any additional packages installed besides Chrome itself.

Though I prefer Firefox to Chrome, I’ll happily boot up Chrome if only to watch Netflix. It sure beats the uncertain methods of trying to either emulate or immitate Silverlight, which has been the popular tactic for some time now.

You can grab the Chrome package to install directly from your machine by going to its download page, or you can install it from terminal using APT by adding Google’s repositories:

wget -q -O - | sudo apt-key add -
sudo sh -c 'echo "deb stable main" >> /etc/apt/sources.list.d/google-chrome.list'
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install google-chrome-stable


Linux Mint’s “Point” Updates

Linux Mint is doing something that is new, at least to me. If they’ve done this in the past, I didn’t know about it, so I’m assuming that they didn’t. They’re releasing a “point” update to version 17 “Qiana”, their latest LTS release of Mint, which will be 17.1 “Rebecca”. Based on what has been said in this blog post on Mint’s official website, I assume that all point releases will feature a different codename.

If my understanding is correct, Mint’s point-release updates won’t be quite the same as Ubuntu’s. Where Ubuntu 14.04.1 is actually the same exact distribution as 14.04 only with updated packages and kernels that would automatically be updated from Ubuntu’s repositories anyway (though saving you the time of downloading them – by getting them in the installation ISO), Mint 17.1 will feature updates to the desktop environments themselves. So, where 14.10 will feature an updated Unity, most likely, that could only be applied to 14.04 by enabling unstable repositories, Mint will work out a stable update to their environments and actually push it to be a stable update to their LTS release. This is awesome. There were small changes to Unity that I wanted from 13.10, but I didn’t want to upgrade to 13.10 or take the chance of upgrading the Unity environment in 12.04 at the risk of it having compatibility issues with packages in the 12.04 repositories. Even if my concerns were unfounded, updates to LTS releases are typically limited for a reason, and that’s usually to help ensure that people don’t run into compatibility issues or crippling bugs.

What’s also cool about the point-releases for Mint is that it will be upgradable through their Update Manager. Though Mint sees updates to packages at a slower pace than Ubuntu, this usually means the chance of having issues with those updated packages is minimized, which is better than getting the new bells and whistles only to have them break your machine and put you in an aggravating position of having to revert and recover. I like Mint. When the next LTS version is released, I may just change for my primary PC. I have two years to think about it, though I’m already running it on my laptop to see how the progression goes. That’s not to say that Ubuntu is being looked at as a loser in this. After all, I’ve used it as my primary OS for nearly three years now, and there’s obviously good reasons for that. I just can’t fail to consider another distribution that may be making better strides in improving the Linux experience, even if Ubuntu continues to be an excellent OS that is probably the best for first-time Linux users to try. On top of that, Windows users considering the migration over to Linux may find Cinnamon and MATE both more comfortable than Unity, in terms of a layout that closer resembles Windows’ Start menu-style layout. I would recommend Mint over Ubuntu to such a person.

CDProjekt RED’s Example: What other’s need to learn

First of all, Steam has a great sale on both The Witcher Enhanced Edition Director’s Cut and The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition for about another 14 hours on steam. Getting both for less than $6 has me purchasing them through their service, even though I already own both on disks.

Second, I have to commend CDProjekt RED for doing something few other companies with its presence in the gaming industry do: it puts the game and the players who play it before the profit. Given, I don’t know the people who work at CDProjekt RED personally, but my experience as an owner of The Witcher games supports the points made in this article on PC Gamer, which is that satisfying the players who purchase their games is more important than trying to ring every penny they can get for every minute addition that they create for the game. This is the exact opposite of what infuriates gamers more than anything: day-one DLC (the non-free kind).

On top of this, CDProjekt’s games don’t require disk-checks, at least not following all of the updates that I applied to them upon installation. I believe the first game may have asked me for the disk before I updated it to current, which I had to do manually by seeking the update file online and applying it (learning of the Director’s Cut convinced me to do it quickly). However, the second game updated automatically with prompts as soon as I installed it (never asking for the disk when playing). Either way, I have both games and can play without any no-cd cracks and still free of spinning my disks in the drive. CDProjekt isn’t broke, but I have to assume that its bank isn’t anywhere near as dense as companies like Bethesda, EA and Ubisoft. So, why do they act as though nerve-wrecking DRM is so crucial to their survival? Do pirated copies of their games truly make such a dent in their return? How many die-hard fans of past SimCity games had to deal with disappointment on day-one of playing their pre-ordered copies of SimCity thanks to EA’s paranoia? How about Blizzard’s Diablo III? Find a chart that displays how much these games brought in from initial sales (pre-order and day-one), and tell me if the DRM used was truly necessary to the point taken. A starting company releasing a new game franchise with these tactics would never have seen returning customers for a sequel. It would have been its undoing.

Truth be told, I have always been a bargain-hunter with games. Few games have seen a pre-order from me over the years. I even waited until The Witcher games were both below the $20 mark before I bought them, despite my praise for the company (note: I wasn’t familiar with the company or its games prior to purchasing them at the bargain prices). On top of that, I’ve always sought after the security of physically owning the medium that I buy the game on (preferring disk over download). Yet I’ve been forced to transition to cloud-based purchases through services like Steam because owning the disk is nearly useless now. You’re given a disk with the data on it, but the activation key for the game is the only real item of value, which usually still requires you to download the game in-full from the net without using anything on the disk. In the end, the disk is worthless without a Steam, U-Play or Origin account – unless someone produces a hack that allows you to install the game using the disk’s data independent of those services. In other words, piracy – or the potential for it – remains either way.

The main point I wanted to make of CDProjekt here though is that they don’t use DLC to amplify their profit from a single project. I have always waited on the past Elder Scrolls games, because I knew the likelihood of an edition including all DLC would be released and dropped to a bargain price. The same goes with BioWare and 2K Games titles. But if you look at what CDProjekt did with Witcher 2, you see that whether you bought the standard game on release-day or bought the Enhanced Edition after it was released, you ended up with equal overall content for the game without dishing additional out-of-pocket to get it.

It’s obvious to me as I read online to research a game’s DRM requirements before purchasing that more people are growing to accept the presence of services like Steam as we move forward, and the cries of foul over over-priced and day-one DLC have diminished as well, but I simply couldn’t help but point out how the evidence from CDProjekt’s success in the gaming industry shows that the excessive DRM path, as well as leeching customers for additional content, is surely not necessary for a company to thrive from its product, let alone successfully create and distribute a product that meets or exceeds the standard. Here’s to hoping that their practices continue, and perhaps they may influence others to share the same strategy.

The Atari Landfill

I remember reading about this a long, long time ago. For some reason, it was mentioned in a magazine or something that I was reading. Maybe I was reading about the collapse of Atari, or it could have been mentioned while reading about the collapse of the Sega console. I believe the two went down similarly – being that both invested too much into a single game that flopped or something. Either way, IGN has been shooting out newsletter emails reporting that the urban legend around Atari’s landfill is confirmed true. Apparently, they are out there observing an Xbox documentary crew who’s having the site dug up to see if the horde of dump-truck-dropped Atari stuff is actually out there.

Considering the money it takes to hire dump-trucks to carry all of that Atari merchandise to a desert, where a hole probably had to have been dug, and then filled with cement – it makes you wonder why Atari didn’t just tell everyone “hey, here’s free Atari crap for anyone who wants it … you just gotta come get it yourself.”

Then again, Xbox’s new TV group and IGN wouldn’t have anything to make a big uproar about. I did have the unfortunate experience of playing E.T. on Atari, however. I’d say Atari wouldn’t have been too hard pressed just to convince everyone to bury it in their own back yards and cement it in for at least some pleasure. IGN says it wasn’t actually the worst game ever made, but I can’t agree. It is still the worst game I’ve ever played. Anyway. Here’s IGN’s latest article about it, if you’re interested. You can even see Naomi Kyle playing the game in one of the embedded videos and being just as frustrated as I was back when I used to play it on my Atari.

Ubuntu Software Center: ‘Available from the “main” source’

For anyone who comes across this problem, which I did tonight on my laptop, you may want to first try closing Software Center and re-opening it. Several suggestions on and other results from searches online mentioned removing entries from the source lists and so forth. As I said, just closing and re-opening solved the problem where it happened to me. I’m not going to assume this is something new, as people asking about it on those sites when I searched it were experiencing it with 12.04. I never experienced it in 12.04 and have only experienced it once so far on one machine running 14.04.

What occurred was when clicking on an application in the Software Center I was shown no reviews or info for the application, but instead only the message Available from the “main” source with a button saying Use This Source where Install would normally be.