Friday, February 29, 2008

The Tinker's Toolbox

I'm going to start this blog off at it's natural beginning. A few posts on the assembly of my arsenal of toys, trinkets, and 007-esque gadgets that I use regularly to get my myriad of jobs done. The software, hardware, and toys that I list here are as unique to me as any mechanic's toolbox is. There's always more than one way to skin the cat, but these are my weapons-of-choice.

First up, the laptop. The box. The deck. The one essential workspace of the Network Engineer. If I were a bank-robber, this is where I keep my shotguns and ski-masks.

I'm a long-time Linux tinkerer, but it's only recently that I've really used it to bear the brunt of my technical heavy lifting.

Ubuntu's 7.10 distribution (Gutsy Gibbon), is the first distro that I feel is robust enough for me to dive in with both feet, and completely abandon Windows.

Now, I have a long-time habit of documenting new computer setups and configurations as I perform them. I can't tell the number of times I've been saved by compulsive note-jotting. I thought I'd translate these notes into an abbreviated guide to getting Gutsy up and flying with all the toys you need to replace your Vista desktop.

Target System:
Stock Dell Inspiron E1505
1.86 GHz Dual Core Processor
Broadcom 10/100 Card
Broadcom DW 1390 WiFi
Nvidia G72 256MB Video

-----Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon"-----

First, I started with the Ubuntu 7.10 alternate install. I could have used the live CD, but I feel more comfortable with the old-school text install. I resized the Vista partition of my hard drive without wiping it, which is a miracle in-and-of itself. Here's my usual homage to the importance backups before you try a stunt like this, however. Everything of importance on the Vista side went off to my free Mozy ( account first.

Clickity-click, Next-Next-Next, Ubuntu is up and running with 10 minutes. Upon start, I got 2 Restricted Driver messages. For those unfamiliar with Ubuntu, this is when it warns you that it wants to use some proprietary code for some of it's drivers, as opposed to native Linux kernel code. My video card and my WiFi adapter both needed to grab stuff from the internet (so I plugged the laptop in on the wire). Both were configured in under a minute, and a reboot was called for for the video drivers.

I rebooted, scanned my wireless networks (thanks to the technical arms race between me and my fellow engineer and neighbor) I find no less than 6 WLANs available. I connect to my home network, and I'm off the wire, and on the Internet. I had some automatic updates to do, so I let the system crank those out for me real quick.

Okay, so there's a million guides that tell you how to stumble through all that good stuff if you hit any snags. The real point of this article is to document my must-have apps, and how to get them up and running quickly. I'll provide links to the resources I use to grab them.

This comes pre-installed. I busted this out right away (and dragged a launcher for it over to my task bar) because it's where I'm jotting these notes down.

I had to get the extension for Firefox just so I could get all these bookmarks back. If you use more than one PC, this is essential software.


This is so damn pretty, it will make Vista Aero users cry. Crazy music not included. Enjoy this video:

How did I get this? If you know what you're looking for, this quickest way to install apps is to grab them from repositories on the net. In a terminal I typed

sudo apt-get install compiz compizconfig-settings-manager

It dropped in the necessary files, and I could configure it under System->Preferences->Appearance using the Custom button. Have fun!

This one comes pre-installed with Ubuntu as well. Some folks prefer Thunderbird for their e-mail client, but since I need to have complete connectivity with my Exchange server at work, Evolution is the way to go. It's the Open Source Outlook Killer. If you can configure Outlook to read your mail, you can configure Evolution. If your Exchange server supports OWA, make sure to put the deliberate URL in the server address box. ("")

Another pre-installed app. This is my IM client and runs two AIM accounts, a yahoo account, and my Windows Live Messenger account.

I needed a TTY terminal program to configure switches and the like at work. I found that the Belkin F5U409 USB-to-Serial adapter works out of the box in Gutsy, which is nice. It mapped it to /ttyUSB0 for me. I grabbed minicom off of Synaptic, and configured it thusly:

sudo minicom -s

This allowed me to configure my settings, most notably the serial port. I saved my config as default, and also created a save for cisco devices.

I run it from a terminal with:
sudo minicom

Easy as pie....

----Super Nerdy Stuff-----
Things that I need, but most don't. If you're an Network Engineer, these are MUST-HAVEs in your arsenal.
I grabbed from Synaptic:

aircrack-ng (Wireless network monitoring and hacking)

kismet (Wireless network monitoring and hacking)

Wireshark (Wired network packet sniffing - formerly Ethereal)

These all came down just fine. If you want to know a little more about them here are some good links that I refer back to:

Aircrack WEP cracking:

Kismet Wireless Monitoring:


So that's it! My toolbox is ready to hit the road with me, and I'm fully functional as an IT professional under Ubuntu. Next up will be a list of Online applications I use to round out my computing experience on any machine.