Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How to see boot error messages

I noticed that the Linux kernel has been updated several times since I installed Debian Jessie and decided to try a new version to see if it would help with a few issues I've been having.

I installed a newer kernel from Debian Backports, but during the reboot I noticed an error message flash by- far too quickly to read.

I was sure I had found a way to read such messages again after the computer finished booting, but just couldn't recall it.

After spending a couple of hours on Google trying to rediscover the secret, I found it.


I've put it in red and highlighted it so I don't forget it again.

Running dmesg showed me the error message I'd missed, highlighted in red.
firmware: failed to load radeon/mullins
My new kernel couldn't use the non-free driver firmware I had installed- installing firmware from Debian Backports fixed the problem.

Toshiba C50D-B-120 Part 5 - Firmware update

It's been a few months since I bought my new Toshiba laptop, and by and large, it's been working well. One issue I have had is an occasional artefact in text rendering- I assume a problem with the graphics driver.

I noticed that Debian Backports had some updated firmware for video drivers, so I wondered if this might help with my problem, but I just couldn't see the firmware update even though I have backports in my sources list.

To cut a long story short, the instructions page in the link above has the following line to add to sources list:
deb jessie-backports main
To get firmware updates, it should of course be:
deb jessie-backports main contrib non-free
(Firmware is non-free software.)

I've upgraded firmware as follows:
Removed the following packages: firmware-linux 
Upgraded the following packages: firmware-linux-nonfree (0.43) to 20151207-1~bpo8+1 
Installed the following packages: firmware-amd-graphics (20151207-1~bpo8+1) firmware-misc-nonfree (20151207-1~bpo8+1) 
Upgraded the following packages: firmware-atheros (0.43) to 20151207-1~bpo8+1
The rendering issue doesn't seem to have entirely disappeared, although first impressions are that it is happening less frequently.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Update Flash fix... oh, what's the bloody point?

Flash is full of security holes again. I uninstalled it.

Queue irony tag:

How long will Flash survive?

A few years ago, it was difficult to browse the web without coming across a site using Flash.

Released in 1996, the browser plug-in enabled animations, interactivity and streaming video on what was a largely static web.

But the software has been plagued by security problems, and has been criticised for affecting computer performance and battery life.

Now many experts say the media plug-in's days are numbered. Watch the video to find out more.

BBC News

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How to update a Windows computer

I have recently had to update a couple of Windows computers that hadn't been updated for a while (Windows 7 & 8). There seems to be a bit of a knack required, so I thought I would share my experience and knowledge gained.

Step 1: turn on the computer and leave it for a couple of hours. You may see a notification that Windows is downloading updates. It will probably stall at %18 or a similar figure.

Step 2: Reboot the computer. You may see an option to restart and install updates or you may not. You will see notifications about updates being installed while shutting down and while restarting. This step could take 9-10 hours.

Step 3: Repeat steps 1 and 2. Yes, this could take another 9-10 hours.

Your computer is now up-to-date. Enjoy! (Until next week, then go back to step 1.)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Update Flash fix security flaws!

Adobe Flash update available, exploits in the wild, another update due this week.
 # update-flashplugin-nonfree --install

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Microsoft stole my Linux invention!

A while back I proposed an idea for a Gnome extension on my blog. If only I had patented it!

Microsoft have incorporated my idea into Windows 10, which of course borrows a lot from Linux, as "Task View" (third icon from left):

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Update Flash fix security flaws!

I've been away for a few weeks. I updated my computer when I came back and found a Flash update was available. As I have mentioned before, Flash updates do not arrive with the Debian update process- it's a manual update:
# update-flashplugin-nonfree --install

Brian Krebs has the details.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Update Flash fix security flaws!

Adobe pushes emergency fix for active 0-day.

No, this isn't a duplicate of the previous post.

It looks like I'll be saying exactly the same thing next week too, according to Brian Krebs.
For the second time in a week, Adobe Systems Inc. says it plans fix a zero-day vulnerability in its Flash Player software that came to light after hackers broke into and posted online hundreds of gigabytes of data from Hacking Team, a controversial Italian company that’s long been accused of helping repressive regimes spy on dissident groups.

In an advisory published late Friday evening, Adobe said it plans to issue another Flash patch the week of July 13, 2015.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Firefox can block tracking cookies- but not by default

I read an article on the BBC News website about ad blocking in web browsers recently and was interested to read a claim that blocking tracking cookies in Firefox can speed up page load times by about 44%. Whatever you may think about the privacy concerns of tracking cookies, this seems to be a big hit on performance. The article doesn't mention how to activate tracking protection in Firefox (it's not enabled by default, or an easy preferences option), but the information is available on this Mozilla Support page.

This feature requires a recent version of Firefox to work- the ESR version in Debian Jessie didn't support it. I had to install the release version from the Debian Mozilla Team. As a bonus, I get to play with the new video chat feature, and preferences in a tab.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Things that are broken in Debian Jessie 2

Gnome Calendar:

Gnome Calendar causes random authentication request popups (without identifying where they have come from), as documented at

The first attempt at entering a password fails, even if it is correct; the popup disappears at the second attempt but returns later.

Looks like this is fixed in Gnome 3.16.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Things that are broken in Debian Jessie

Bummers for Debian Jessie users- these things are broken.

Update notifications:

Bluetooth file transfer from phone to computer: bug=774796 and bug=bug=757633

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Split Flac audio file: errors, solutions and workarounds

I've previously split some Flac files with the following command:
 shntool split -f *.cue -o flac *.flac
But I recently tried the same command on some other Flac files and got the following error message:
shntool [split]: error: m:ss.ff format can only be used with CD-quality files
A suggestion on was to use a similar command to this (where you have one Flac file and one cue file; you'll have to specify the names if you have more than one in the folder obviously):
cuebreakpoints *.cue | sed s/$/0/ | shnsplit -o flac *.flac
However, I ran into a similar error as another poster there:
shnsplit: warning: error while transferring -4195974166 bytes of data shnsplit: error: failed to split file
I noticed that in both cases it was the final track that failed to split.

A workaround is to add a extra dummy track to the end of the cue file, using the track length of the origianl Flac file from file properties.

The final track is then spit successfully and the error message appears when the program tries to slit the dummy track.

Once the Flac file is successfully split, to add tag information to the split files from the cue file, use this command:
cuetag *.cue split-track*.flac
To change the file names to track titles from the cue file, use this script:
for f in *.flac; do
track=`metaflac "$f" --show-tag=TRACKNUMBER | sed s/.*=//g`
artist=`metaflac "$f" --show-tag=ARTIST | sed s/.*=//g`
title=`metaflac "$f" --show-tag=TITLE | sed s/.*=//g`
mv "$f" "`printf %02g $track` - $artist - $title.flac"
 Author: Ruben Verweij

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Toshiba C50D-B-120 Part 3 - Firmware

On my Toshiba C50D-B-120 I have Installed the following packages:

amd64-microcode (2.20141028.1) 
firmware-linux (0.43) 
firmware-linux-free (3.3) 
firmware-linux-nonfree (0.43) 
firmware-realtek (0.43)

A warning message during installation about missing firmware


was asking for firmware contained in the Realtek package.

Of course I had to change my sources list file, which now looks like this:

#deb cdrom:[Debian GNU/Linux jessie-DI-rc2 _Jessie_ - Official Snapshot amd64 CD Binary-1 20150326-13:22]/ jessie main

deb jessie main contrib non-free
#deb-src jessie main

deb jessie/updates main contrib non-free
#deb-src jessie/updates main

# jessie-updates, previously known as 'volatile'
deb jessie-updates main contrib non-free
#deb-src jessie-updates main

# jessie-backports, previously on
deb jessie-backports main contrib non-free
#deb-src jessie-backports main

The entry for jessie-backports seems to be a bug fixed in Jessie RC3.

Toshiba C50D-B-120 Part 4 - Bluetooth

Everything seemed to work on my new install of Debian Jessie on my new Toshiba C50D-B-120 except for Bluetooth. I noticed a warning during boot about some missing firmware, which wasn't mentioned during the install, unlike the network adapter firmware, which was.

However, using dmesg allowed me to see the error messages and track down the missing firmware.

First I tried installing firmware-atheros, but this doesn't have the firmware for the adapter in this computer.

To cut a long story short, the required files are


and they go in


They are available from

 as described on the Ubuntu forum (thanks to Ephialta).

NB, the files go in /lib/firmware/ar3k/ in Debian and not in usr/lib/firmware/ar3k/ as described in the Ubuntu forum. Presumably that location applies to Ubuntu.

This information may be relevant to anybody who has the Qualcomm Atheros AR3012 adapter and has installed Linux, Googlebots please note.

Toshiba C50D-B-120 Part 2 - UEFI dual boot with Windows 8.1

I read a lot about people having problems dual booting Debian with Windows, and so worried about how it would go on my new Toshiba C50D-B-120.

In fact the installation with the Jessie RC2 installation CD was very easy- I used the graphical install and after choosing to install on the available free space, I simply used the default options, except for having a separate /home directory. The CD installed GRUB in the UEFI partition and when I rebooted I had Debian Jessie and Windows in GRUB!

Of course, to free up some space, I had to resize the Windows C: partition. Here's what the drive looked like:


I used


and clicking on the Windows partition gave me a Shrink option. It didn't let me shrink Windows as much as I would have wanted. There are partition managers that would have allowed me to move unmovable files in Windows and shrink the partition more, but I suspect I'm going to install again and use the whole disc for Debian assuming everything is working properly, which so far it is.

I also disabled Fast Startup in Windows as described in Option 1 here.

Secure Boot wasn't enabled in Boot options (F12 on this Toshiba), but disabling it is necessary for a UEFI install.

Now all I have to do is decide if I want to keep Windows. Windows 8 isn't too bad once you ignore the tiles and tablet-like apps and boot straight to the desktop (on a laptop at least).

But it's a pain as far as updates go. I had to look at a blue screen telling me that Windows was configuring and not to shut off the computer for half an hour today. This seems to be a typical and frequent event when shutting down or booting up.

About the only reason I can think of for keeping it is that Toshiba puts out BIOS updates in .exe form- I have installed one already- a very easy process from Windows, maybe not so easy from Linux.

However, everything seems to be working, and I've just downloaded the Debian Jessie RC3 CD, so a reinstall using the whole disc may be immanent.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Toshiba C50D-B-120 Part 1 - Windows (upd)8

My first laptop cost me £950 back in 2003, my second £800 in 2005, so I was interested to see a laptop for less than £200 on the Argos Website. Looking through the reviews, I noticed that many of them were dreadful, complaining about the mouse pointer freezing or seeming to have a mind of its own. The laptop has a low powered CPU- basically a netbook CPU- but could it really be that bad?

Towards the end of the reviews I noticed one from somebody who had contacted Toshiba and been told that the problem was a buggy touch pad driver.

PCWorld was selling a similar Toshiba for the same price but with a slightly more powerful Intel CPU. Again the same reviews complaining about sluggish performance. One reviewer said that the laptop performed well after being updated.

My old laptop only has an 80GB hard drive, and the Toshiba C50D has a 500GB hard drive. I don't do anything on my PC that requires a powerful CPU, so I wondered if the problems reviewers had identified were in fact down to software problems, and if these computers might be a bargain.

Over Easter PCWorld offered their Toshiba for £180, with a reconditioned item for £150. I was tempted but the offer disappeared before I could make my mind up. I regretted not going for it.

Then I saw the C50D-B-120 on LaptopsDirect for £150 reconditioned and snagged one. (The buggers then reduced it to £145 the next day!)

Mine was in A1 condition as stated, but yes, the mouse pointer was slow to respond and did seem to have a mind of its own.

Windows update told me that there were more than 100 updates available, but clicking the install button seemed to do nothing- downloading 0% was the constant message.

I suspect that Windows was trying to update in the background and that the manual update failed because the automatic update process had a lock on the process.

This was confirmed when I went to shutdown later and saw a "Shutdown and install updates" message.

Windows configured some updates when it was shutting down, and then configured some more when it was booting up again.

This process- background download of updates which I as the user was unaware of until prompted to install updates when shutting down- repeated several times before Windows Update confirmed that all the available updates had been installed.

Whereupon the computer now works just fine. The mouse pointer is responsive and for simple tasks like web browsing it is perfectly snappy.

Of course most computer users, especially new computer users, to whom this computer is marketed, are just going to turn the computer on and find it doesn't work.

Sorry Toshiba, you didn't really deserve the abuse heaped upon you.

For anybody looking for a really cheap laptop that does basic computing really well, yes, you can get one.

(PCWorld was offering a reconditioned C50-B for £140 at one point.)

But you may have to spend a bit of time updating the software before it will be usable.

Microsoft, you do deserve the abuse heaped upon you. Why is this process so painful?

Of course anybody who read this blog will know I am a Linux user. The Toshiba C50D-B-120 is now running Debian Jessie, dual boot with Windows 8.1 for the time being as an experiment in UEFI dual booting. This post was made from Debian with the computer performing perfectly satisfactorily.

Future posts will look at the Debian installation process and hardware issues with this computer.

But to conclude I will say that the Toshiba C50D-B-120 so far seems to be the equal or better of either of my previous machines which cost far more, at least in the tasks I put it to. The most noticeable improvement is its much greater efficiency: the power adaptor is half the size and a third of the weight of my previous laptop's adaptor and doesn't get nearly as hot: a green machine.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Microsoft ecosystem

I've just been working on an old Windows Vista laptop which I was asked if I could fix. Apparently it had had problems with a virus and the owner couldn't get on to her online email.

Trying to boot the laptop only resulted in endless failed attempts by Windows to repair itself- the system was obviously broken. I managed to find a Vista repair disc, which fixed the boot problems. Microsoft of course doesn't make these discs available, and tries to take down any copies that appear on the web. You are apparently supposed to use the system recovery partition- and then spend many hours downloading all the updates and service packs that have accrued over the last decade.

Booting into Windows was just the beginning of my problems. The laptop was locked up with constant I/O on the hard drive and processes taking up most of the available memory and CPU.

I booted into Safe Mode and used the AVG removal tool to remove AVG, which was loading into memory but not working, and installed some updates which a web search suggested might be the reason svchost.exe was locking up the system after a normal boot- automatic update trying and failing to install updates.

After that, a fairly normal boot. Multiple malware scans found only one Adware file and a few PUPs. However, I noticed that the C: partition was almost full- over 30GB- and showing red. Vista seems to store user files in C:, so I imagined I'd find a huge collection of photos or MP3s taking up the space- but no, it seemed to be Windows cruft: packages of updates left after the installation of Service Packs.

The D: partition was almost empty, and a similar size to C:, so I thought I'd resize C: to give the system more room.

Now Windows Vista will let you shrink D:, but it won't expand C:, because it's a boot partition.

I came across a post on which kindly suggest some free programs which would shrink the D: partition and extend the C: partition. I used the first one, and here's where the real trouble began.

I noticed an annoying pop-over add for System Mechanic which told me it was a Microsoft Trusted partner, and if I ran it's scan, I could save myself from endless system crashes. (Microsoft partners tell you that Windows is so rubbish it will keep on crashing unless you emply a third party to fix it?)

Well I ignored that and used the partition program from EaseUS to resize the partitions, and it did work really well. OK, I was only going to use it once, so thank you for making it available for free. Software developers have to make money, so seeing an advert seemed a reasonable price to pay for using a good bit of software.

You might think that if Windows is going to fill its partition with cruft, they might give you the tool to fix it, but they've been in trouble before for trying to monopolise the market, so maybe they decided to throw a few crumbs down the food chain.

The problem is that where there are crumbs, there are bottom feeders lurking.

When I tried to update a program on the computer, I found that the web browsers were showing pop-up advertisements and redirecting me to other sites.

An example of the most stupid adware that makes browsing the internet almost impossible: if you can get to the site you want to visit without being redirected, it is almost obscured by advertisements, and links never seem to take you to where you want to go.

A scan by MalwareBytes revealed Conduit, OpenCandy and Roll Around were the culprits. Getting rid of everything found seemed to fix Internet Explorer, but Chrome was still showing Roll Around adds in web searches and redirecting to unwanted sites.

AdwCleaner and ESET Online Scan found and removed more traces, but Chrome was still infected: evidently some sort of hidden extension. In the end, I had to uninstall Chrome and reinstall it to fix the problem.

EaseUS should be ashamed of themselves. They have a good product, which people try to use to fix a problem, but their way of getting a financial reward for their work leaves the users of their product virtually unable to use the internet, and very probably, like me, angry and frustrated, although unlike me, possibly not having the skills to remove the despicable adware they have installed.

There are ways to get paid for a supplying a product that don't involve abusing your users- asking for a donation or a purchase of a full product, or showing ads that don't inconvenience the user.

The sort of model that MalwareBytes and AdwCleaner and ESET use- at least the existence of bottom feeders provides food for these more salubrious eaters.

But that reminds me of what the guy who made available the Vista disc I used in the first step of fixing this laptop wrote to accompany it:
I strongly advise you to at least test the best operating system available TODAY, namely Linux MINT Xfce (try Linux Mint 17 Xfce, codename 'Qianna', for newer PC's with Windows 7/8 or Linux Mint 13 Xfce, codename 'Maya', for older PC's with XP or Vista): you will be pleasantly surprised how much better Mint is compared to Windows and it is FREE, FOREVER FREE [and you will be forever free not only from the expenses associated with Windows but also from all the angst, all the hassles, all the troubles, all the virii and all the spyware associated with Windows!].
I'm not a Mint user myself, but having just installed it on an old computer,I'm inclined to agree with him: if you have an old Vista computer and could do without all the hassle I have just described, give Mint a go!

The ecosystem is a lot nicer.

Friday, February 13, 2015


I've just installed Linux Mint XFCE on an old AcerPower M-8 for somebody who wanted to try Mint.

First attempts resulted in screen lock ups.

I guess I should have Read The Flippin'  Release Notes.
If you are unable to boot Linux Mint with an NVIDIA card, or if you are experiencing constant freezes and system lock ups, please append "nomodeset" to your boot arguments. At the boot menu of the live DVD/USB, press Tab to edit the boot arguments and add "nomodeset" at the end of the line.
Release Notes for Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon

Actually, you have to add "space" "nomodeset" to the end of the line:
-- nomodeset
I missed out the space and thought it had worked because the install seemed to work. But, after a couple of hours, right near the end, the screen froze again.

Having corrected that piece of stupidity, the install completed. Very. Slowly.

Yes, the install process takes a long time on this computer. Pick up a copy of War and Peace to read in the meantime.

I have to say, Mint looks very good- better than a default XFCE install on Debian.

But the computer runs out of memory very quickly and grinds to a halt with more than one application running, or a background process like update open. (Default update period was set to 30 minutes- which meant the computer ground to a halt every 30 minutes.)

A bit surprising as I have an old laptop with a similar amount of memory (512MB) and a slower processor that runs several applications in Debian XFCE without struggling.

Mint (based on Ubuntu) seems to be heavier than Debian. The laptop was running Ubuntu until 2009, when it ground to a halt after an upgrade. It ran Debian OK, even with 256MB memory which it had at the time.

I have just ordered 512MB of (hopefully) compatible used memory from Ebay for the ridiculous price of £1.69, so with any luck, that will make the computer more usable.

If you are installing mint on an old computer, check out Ebay for a memory upgrade if you don't have the 1GB required for a "comfortable" experience as mentioned in the system requirements.

Pick up a (long) good book to read while it's installing, and enjoy a very good looking and easy-to-use Linux distribution at the end.

Systemd overrides laptop lid close options in Gnome

If you are using Gnome on a laptop in Debian Jessie (or possibly any other Linux distro using Systemd), you may find that the When laptop lid is closed menu in Gnome Tweak has no effect: closing the laptop lid always suspends the laptop.

This is because the Systemd default overrides the Gnome option. To fix it, edit /etc/systemd/logind.conf and uncomment HandleLidSwitch and change from suspend to ignore, thus:

Monday, February 9, 2015

How to tranfer files between an Android tablet and Linux

I recently tried to connect an Android tablet to my Debian computer- and found the connection didn't work. Google told me the connection now uses MTP (older versions of Andoid, including my phone, used USB mass storage to connect) so I wondered if MTP was broken in Debian Jessie, but then I tried another tablet and it connected without a problem.

On the tablet that did connect, USB debugging was enabled, as well as MTP.

Now I certainly didn't enable USB debugging, because the menu option is hidden- you have to go to About tablet and tap Build number seven times which I didn't know about until just now, when I looked for the option and couldn't find it. (I discovered the information on

Nor did I enable MTP. (Go to Storage, tap the menu icon (three vertical square dots to the right), tap USB computer connection when it appears and tick Media device (MTP).

Enabling MTP on the tablet that wouldn't connect allowed it to connect. I also enabled USB debugging, which on this tablet wasn't hidden for some reason, although a subsequent test proved it wasn't necessary to connect.

However, on the second tablet, USB debugging is necessary.

Curious as both tablets run the same version of Android and are both from the same manufacture, although they are different models.

A useful reference from How-To Geek:

Android USB Connections Explained: MTP, PTP, and USB Mass Storage

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Update Flash fix security flaws! Groundhog day.

A security update is available for Flash in Linux.

See previous post.

And the one before that.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Update Flash fix security flaws! (The prequel)

Another Flash update is on the way.
Security Advisory for Adobe Flash Player 

Release date: February 2, 2015
Vulnerability identifier: APSA15-02 CVE number: CVE-2015-0313
Platform: All Platforms

A critical vulnerability (CVE-2015-0313) exists in Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Windows and Macintosh. Successful exploitation could cause a crash and potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system. We are aware of reports that this vulnerability is being actively exploited in the wild via drive-by-download attacks against systems running Internet Explorer and Firefox on Windows 8.1 and below. Adobe expects to release an update for Flash Player during the week of February 2. For more information on updating Flash Player please refer to this post.

Affected software versions 

Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Windows and Macintosh Adobe Flash Player and earlier 13.x versions
Adobe Flash Player and earlier versions for Linux

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Update Flash fix security flaws! (The Déjà vu remix)

Flash seems to have been pwned again- as usual:
Flash updates are not automatically downloaded in Debian- a user has to do:

# update-flashplugin-nonfree --install
Restart the browser afterwards to load the updated Flash player.
KrebsonSecurity has the lowdown: here and here.