Warning: Extra long post.

Well fortunately, I had a system I was building to replace oesrvr1. Pulled the hard drive from that machine and installed it in oesrvr1. After making a few adjustments, The system was serving the main page and a few other things. Since I needed to replace a lot of software anyway. It was not a big deal all the applications were not installed. The lamp services and phpmyadmin were installed and they was the most important. Began to restore files.  Etc etc etc.

Anyway, the real reason I needed to have to old server back up again was to take advantage of what is known as GPXE. Gpxe is the open source version of the pre-execution environment that allows a computer to boot into a working environment without a storage system in use or enabled. This usually entails having special network card in a computer system that contains enough information to boot into the network. PXE has been around a long time. Normally if you turn on your computer, you will hear a hard disk drive whirl up to speed and eventually the computer boots to your operating system locally. PXE allows you so to speak to have a remote hard drive. No hard drive on the system means less labor and maintenance costs.

There are several ways to achieve remote booting. The traditional was was to load enough software on the client or desktop machine to use what is called a terminal services client so to speak.  The terminal server that all the client computers talk to does all the heavy lifting and the client computer is virtually a dumb terminal.  No server and you can not use your client computer. As servers and clients have become more powerful. you actually now can have remote hard drives (sometimes this is know as AOE or ISCSI). So no one has to come to your desk to fix your software. All support (updates and corrections) can be done remotely!

For the reason I wanted to use the gpxe is sort of a combination of above. Traditionally you had to have several servers set up for you to serve out what you need at the desktop (i.e. tftp and dhcp). That can be time consuming and cause problems in more complex environments. GPXE allows you to use just a web server (like the one you are connected to now) to get your harddisk so to speak. That means from anywhere on the planet with internet access. you have access to your hard drive. That means you do not have to have a hard drive with you when traveling. A security bonus if some foreign country wants to take your computer. They do not get your hard drive and or data!!!!

One of the things, I have done is  as a tech to install or reinstall computers for clients.  That usually means I have to carry around a lot of software with me. With a web server to dole out the software, nothing virtually has to be taken with me.  On older computers this can be a challenge though, as might at least need a usb stick, floppy, or minimal cd/dvd rom to boot the remote system.

Today I needed to install the operating system on a computer that only had a hard drive. I temporarily hooked up a  floppy drive to get to the gpxe web server.  Made sure the computer was hooked to the internet and had access to the web server that had the gpxe startup software. Booted the floppy in the computer and was instantly hooked up to a network install of the Debian linux operating system. The boot up took under a minute. To say the least clients are amazed when they see you do that.  They usually ask where the boot operating system cd is. I do not need it anymore. One caveat, If where you are booting from has slow network and or slow internet, then you have to do things the old fashioned way.

Example at:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Almost-diskless-boot-from-a-web-server/

For more info, check out:
http://www.etherboot.org
http://www.romomatic.org
http://LTSP.org

Forgot to mention that with proper setup you can have a client or an employee of the client insert the floppy or etc into the machine to be installed or upgraded and then remotely via vnc or the like you can do all the setup. Centos and Redhat linux has allowed you to do that for a long time.

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As a tech, not so long ago when installing MSWindows on users computers at a former job, people were dismayed at the fact of having to use a mouse via a gui (graphical user interface) with wysiwyg (what you see is what you get pronounced wizzywig). They protested they preferred the keyboard only environment. They exclaimed the keyboard environment was more efficient and exacting. In fact, we who were installing the new environment were verbally accosted for the change over. Now if you suggest using a system that does not have a gui, you go through the same negative feedback.

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Decided to do a new kind of roughing it by building a system that was technically obsolete using a non-gui environment, but the operating system was up to date. Yep, that means everything has to be done through the keyboard.  Makes me think of the “Star Trek” movie where the Scotty character was using an old Apple Macintosh computer and could not get it to work. He was trying to talk to the mouse. He was told he had to use the keyboard in addition to the mouse to make it work.

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What to use? I had a spare Dell Pentium II 333 mhz based computer that has 256 megabytes of ram. cdrom (not dvd) and a twentyfive gig hard drive. Today’s computers typically use drives that have thousands of gigs of storage.  I probably used just a four gig drive for even more effect. The operating system would be Debian Linux latest Squeeze version. (Debian will also run on those old G3 Apple new world Macs.) All I needed was an install cd to get going.

Installed Debian Linux Squeeze with the most important free as in speech software I needed. i.e. Mail (accessing gmail with alpine) , spreadsheet, light web browsing, database, word processing, music player, text based graphical utilities, gpm to capture screen shots (had to have one mouse based program), and a host of other software such as time and idea management  If that was not  enough, accounting software, a web server, and programming utilities were also included. This all came to a total of under two gigabytes of space including the operating system. That meant I still had ninetyfive percent of the hard drive still free! The latest proprietary operating systems probably would have not only not work on that system, but could not fit on the hard drive I was using. Software cost: $0 Hardware cost: $0 as the hardware was all what someone did not need or want anymore.


People say you have to have all that gui stuff to make life worthwhile. I am not sure that is true. For example with that old system, I can do what is known as web page scraping. You can automate getting what you need off the web. You can translate languages, get your horoscope, weather, sports scores, and a ton of other information without spending so much oohing and aahing over the graphics. For an example of web page scraping see:  http://www.instructables.com/id/Web-page-scraping-via-Linux/. There are other follow up instructables too.

$ ./lc.sh “el toro” es en
the bull

$ ./gw 77331
Weather: Observed at Wolf Creek Air Cond., Coldspring, Texas
Updated: 12:52 AM CDT on June 22, 2011
Temperature: 78.9°F / 26.1°C
Wind: WNW at 0.0 mph / 0.0 km/h
Conditions: Overcast
Humidity: 70%
Dew Point: 68°F / 20°C
Pressure: 29.90 in / 1012.4 hPa (Rising)

Note: using text makes it easier for my computer to recite the weather for me. Which means I can be doing other things while getting the report!!!

So this next week, I going to try to use only that machine to do all my computing. Again a sort of computer roughing it. Guess, what I am getting to is probably ninety percent of what we does not require a super system.  Now it is time to put my money where my mouth is.  One less computer to the dump and one more computer that extends it’s ROI. Later.

More on text mode usage:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Graphics-in-a-text-world/
http://www.instructables.com/id/Getting-instructable-counts/
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One of the big things now is to be able to record what is on tv. Most of your cable providers will rent you a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) so you can record the shows you like (with limitations). Of course your computer can me made to do that also. In fact we made our own DVR with open source software. It is know as Mythtv (http://www.instructables.com/id/Setting-up-a-computer-based-DVR-with-Mythtv-for-l/). I actually have built two of them. One for the one analog (now defunct) tv reception methods and one for the new digital tv reception. Love being able to record a lot of PBS educational media either for later viewing, or just be able to look at again and again.

Cable viewing is getting rather expensive. so we dumped the tv portion of cable. We now use what is know as OTA-TV or Over-the-air tv. It’s free!! Your selection is not as great but, since so many people are dropping cable tv, more and more cable stuff is comping to over the air tv.  In fact, cable tv providers are dropping their rates because the of the new competition from OTA-TV. Also we still use analog monitors the media said you did not need anymore. As standalone digital tuners become extinct that will become true that you may not be able to use an analog monitor.  The dtv conversion boxes make this possible. With the price of digital TV’s coming down like a rock, we may eventually upgrade.

What are the choices in stations? Well that depends on where you live. We are lucky enough to get over sixty stations. Granted a good portion of those are foreign language stations, but it never hurts to learn a new language with the world as dynamic as it is. You also will probably get a plethora of shows and movies from the past. Considering some of the newer movies, the oldies but goodies are not so bad.  In any case we get enough to provide for our needs.

The over-the-air TV is also called “Antenna TV”. Kind of cute. Despite what the advertisements say, there is not really such a thing as a digital tv antenna. That antenna is just a regular antenna.  You do not have to go out and purchase a special antenna. Many people including me have either used the old rabbit ears or made their own antenna. If you research OTA-TV, you will find out that one of the more popular antennas is known as the “Coat hanger antenna” that you can build for almost nothing. To be honest there are quite a few home brew antennas to choose from. Most TV retailers try to downplay the use of the homemade antennas.  You can find some interesting antennas at:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Dtv-Antennas-I-have-tried/.

index

To see what tv stations might be available for you, you can go to:

http://www.antennaweb.org/aw/Welcome.aspx.

or

http://www.tvfool.com/index.php?option=com_wrapper&Itemid=29

Here is an example of ota-tv. Not as bad as some people would say…

Is your cable tv provider still going to be on your payroll?

More antennas:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Yagi-foil-HDTV-antenna/
http://www.instructables.com/id/Foil-based-fractal-antenna/

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Loving fettucine alfredo!

Good day.

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