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Testing the Digital Ocean $5 Cloud Servers with an MMORPG

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I've been working on an space-based MMORPG for a while now and I finally reached a point where the server was largely complete and ready for some load testing. I had done quite a bit of testing on my quad-core Xeon development system with great results. Renting a dedicated box like that one, and with a decent Internet connection would not be cheap, however.

I was curious about Digital Ocean's offerings so I decided to take a couple of their smallest virtual machines for a test run. These 5 dollar/month cloud servers have 512MB of memory, a single virtual CPU, and 20 gigabytes of SSD disk storage. I created the first one, Maelstrom, in one of their New York data centers and the second one, Paradise, in their San Fransico facility. As claimed, each server took just under 60 seconds to deploy.

I made a few customizations to the bare-bones CentOS 6.5 64-bit image that I had selected for both machines. I then ran my personal benchmark package on both. On my 256 megabyte benchmark that emulates a relational database instance, I got about 25% of the performance of one of my Ivy Bridge Xeon cores. This benchmark stresses memory bandwidth, takes advantage of the full range of caches, as well as loading the CPU with integer-only operations.

I consider a fourth of an Ivy Bridge core an excellent result for a $5(US) server! I repeated the tests over the following days and got consistent results varying within a 10 percent range. One thing of note; the SF server consistently performed about 10% faster than the NY server.

Next, I loaded up a million-sector instance of my MMORPG server engine on the NY server and a bundle of testing scripts on the SF machine. The test suite, which emulates 712 concurrent players requires 1424 processes to do that. In retrospect, it wasn't too surprising that I crashed the SF machine as the testing scripts created an urgent demand for far more than 512 MB of memory! My mistake. I suspected that I wasn't going to be able to fully stress the game engine with far fewer emulated players.

But, always the optimist, I set up a gigabyte of swap space on Paradise and tried again. This time the tests ran just fine -- and the SSD-based swap space performed beautifully.

I got an average of 2500 game transactions per second over the duration of the test -- which should be more than enough for my target of 1000 concurrent players per realm. The SF machine used one half of the GB(!) of swap space while running the test scripts and hummed along happily at about 75% busy.

The NY server was fully stressed at about 98% CPU utilization and remained very responsive for the duration of the test.

I'm still running both systems three weeks later and have experienced no reboots or outages so far.

The New York server continues to run my text-based space MMORPG server back-end for game-play testing as the graphical front-end client is developed.
mail this link | permapage | score:9971 | -Ray, May 13, 2014

Nuvola Player: Enjoy all your Cloud music services from one interface

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And with tight integration with the Linux desktop (multimedia keys, system tray, media player applets, dock menu, notifications and more), it provides a better user experience when compared to using the same Cloud music services from a Web browser. read more...
permapage | score:9724 | -finid, August 21, 2013

Beginner Ubuntu Tips

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Twenty-five tips for Ubuntu beginners...
Adding another source for software is easy; once you've installed addrepo, you can do it in the terminal by typing something along the lines of addrepo deb http://mirror2.ubuntulinux.nl/ lucid-seveas all.

If you find new repositories online, they will usually give you the right details to enter. You could also do it graphically by going to 'System | Administration | Software Sources | Third Party Software | Add'. read more...
permapage | score:9723 | -Ray, November 9, 2010

Apple DIY Repair

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I won't be buying any more Apple products. Here's why:

I'm generally capable of repairing my own equipment and can recognize when self-repair has been deliberately undermined. I recently had to replace a hard drive in an early generation white Intel iMac. Innocently, I believed the interior was accessible and serviceable in the manner of the externally identical white PowerPC iMacs.

No such luck. Not only do you have to remove the LCD to get to the hard drive, but you must also remove shielding around the LCD -- mostly by tearing it to bits. No doubt it is attached this way so that an authorized Apple technician will be able to confidently void your warranty if you've ever worked on the system yourself.

You'll also need a #10 torx magnetic screwdriver. And, no, #10 torx bits just won't do due to the narrow and deeply recessed screw holes. Also, since most torx screwdrivers aren't magnetic, you'll probably need to tape the screws to the screwdriver to reattach the LCD. Good thing there's a hardware store near you.

Oh, and don't forget to pick up some rubber cement to 'properly' reattach the hard drive temperature sensor while you're out looking for magnetic torx screwdrivers.

Considering the logical design of its predecessor and the tamper-evident shielding, I'm certain that this machine has been deliberately designed to prevent the owner from performing DIY upgrades and repairs.

While that is all quite annoying, at least working on the system is possible for someone with experience and determination.

Now, Apple has improved their anti-customer techniques with the 'Pentalobe' screw. It doesn't solve any problem but one: it'll keep customers from even being able to open the case.

If you're curious about Apple's evil new invention, you can read its rap sheet and view its mug shot here.
mail this link | permapage | score:9621 | -Ray, January 25, 2011

perl1line.txt: A handy Perl script collection

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The ultimate goal of the Perl One-Liners Explained article series was to release the perl1line.txt file. Last week I finished the series and now I am happy to announce perl1line.txt - a collection of handy Perl one-liner scripts.

The perl1line.txt file contains over a hundred short Perl one-line scripts for various text processing tasks. The file processing tasks include: changing file spacing, numbering lines, doing calculations, creating strings and arrays, converting and substituting text, selective printing and deleting of certain lines and text filtering and modifications through regular expressions.

The latest version of perl1line.txt is always at:
http://www.catonmat.net/download/perl1line.txt
Enjoy! It took me over 3 years to write all the one-liners down. read more...
mail this link | permapage | score:9620 | -pkrumins, November 21, 2011

Linux dominates Windows

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Linux dominates Windows -- and everything else -- on supercomputers in 2010. Microsoft's renowned engineering quality and down-to-earth pricing shows brilliantly in its capturing 1% of the top 500 supercomputer projects. Perhaps next year, utilizing all the organizational pressure they can bring to bear, they can retain 0.8%.

Formal Unix, now long dead*, controls 4.4%. Meanwhile, Linux is now installed on 91% of the remaining 95% of top systems. Add in the single BSD system and you have Unix-like systems (Unix+Linux+BSD) accounting for 95.6% of the top supercomputer projects. The remaining 3.4% of are 'mixed' systems and may also contain significant percentages of Unix and Linux.

There are many reasons for Linux' success. Among the top factors are surely these four, in no particular order:
  • Price (starting at free)
  • Quality (excellent code, Unix-based design)
  • Hardware Support (most all modern quality gear is supported)
  • Open Source (open to tinkering -- and redistributable)
Check my math on the top 500 systems here.

*Of course, counting functional Unix systems while ignoring the trademarked term, Unix is clearly not dead since Linux is one of the truest of the true Unix work-alike systems. Linux is, of course, the reason formal Unix has suffered such a precipitous decline. Many Unix users just switched flavors -- and Linux was a most appealing flavor.
mail this link | permapage | score:9593 | -Ray, June 2, 2010

Expect Script Examples

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Expressions, if statements, for loops, and while loops examples are covered in this mini-tutorial:
This article explains the following in the expect scripting language.
  • Expressions – arithmetic operation
  • if construct in expect
  • looping constructs
read more...
permapage | score:9586 | -Ray, January 21, 2011

Tutorial: Linux game programming with Ogre 3D

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This tutorial starts at the beginning with opening a window...
This tutorial series steps you through the process of creating a 3D shoot'em'up game using the popular and powerful Ogre 3D engine. The tutorials compile on both Windows and Linux.
read more...
permapage | score:9583 | -Ray, January 1, 2010

System monitoring: Icinga, Nagios, and Opsview

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Three open-source system monitoring software packages, two of which are derived from Nagios...
If in your work you are responsible for just one server, you will surely wonder: What is the best way to get the situation under control?

In the world there are good open source software that allow you to monitor the status of servers, services and programs.

In this article we’ll see an overview some of the softwares in this category, and in particular some related to Nagios...
read more...
mail this link | permapage | score:9569 | -Ray, March 24, 2011

Python Client/Server Tutorial

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A tiny Python tutorial...
This application can easily be coded in Python with performance levels of thousands of transactions per second on a desktop PC. Simple sample programs for the server and client sides are listed below, with discussions following
read more...
permapage | score:9564 | -Ray, June 22, 2009

Pattern matching in shell scripting

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This article is excerpted from the book Beginning Portable Shell Scripting.
Shell programming is heavily dependent on string processing. The term string is used generically to refer to any sequence of characters; typical examples of strings might be a line of input or a single argument to a command. Users enter responses to prompts, file names are generated, and commands produce output. Recurring throughout this is the need to determine whether a given string conforms to a given pattern; this process is called pattern matching. The shell has a fair amount of built-in pattern matching functionality.
read more...
mail this link | permapage | score:9528 | -Ray, January 1, 2009

VPS: Xen vs. OpenVZ

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This is a short overview of the key differences between OpenVZ and Xen that you might consider when choosing a VPS. Note that this article is based on my opinions and that you must do your own research to determine which, if either, technology is best for you and your application.

First, some terminology. OpenVZ isn't fully virtualized and could be more properly referred to as a 'container', not a VPS. That shouldn't affect your choice. It's the technical differences that matter.

Cheap VPS offers are everywhere lately, it seems. However, upon closer inspection I saw that almost all of the low-priced offers were for OpenVZ. While both Xen and OpenVZ offer their advantages, I chose Xen. So, there's my first bias, right up front. :)

OpenVZ advantages:

  • Efficient (fast)
OpenVZ disadvantages:
  • Shared kernel (no custom kernel)
  • Shared memory with other users
  • Vendor can easily oversell, killing performance
Xen advantages:
  • Dedicated memory
  • fully virtualized (can run other kernels or even OS's)
  • vendor more limited in overselling
Xen disadvantages
  • Less efficient (more overhead due to a kernel-per-VPS)

You'll notice I left price out of the above comparison. In theory, there should be a small price advantage for OpenVZ. I don't know how big it should be but it pertains to two things: 1) Xen uses more memory due to each VPS having its own kernel, and 2) Xen uses more CPU, also due to the additional software layer required to virtualize the kernel.

In practice, however, the price gap appears larger than the above technical differences suggest it should be. I think the remainder of OpenVZ's price advantage is based on 1) the ability for a vendor to easily oversell OpenVZ, and 2) The price competition that results from some vendors overselling OpenVZ.

OpenVZ doesn't encapsulate its containers into a fixed amount of memory, so it runs processes in the host environment to monitor memory usage and kill processes as a container allocates more than its assigned amount.

As a result of this difference, loading down an OpenVZ container is problematic. To partially offset this disadvantage, most OpenVZ vendors offer 'burst' memory in addition to 'dedicated' memory. That is, the monitor process is set to allow the container to use more than its allocated memory -- for a short period of time. This messy situation results in a potentially unreliable environment as some of your processes may be arbitrarily killed -- at the busiest times.

Xen, on the other hand, allows the use of a swap space and excess memory allocation results in (hopefully) idle segments being rolled out to the swap area. While this is good for the memory-hungry VPS user, it can consume significant I/O capacity when memory is overallocated to the point of busy segments getting swapped out. This is bad for everyone sharing the underlying hardware.

I see Xen as clearly the superior technology. A Xen VPS feels and behaves more like a dedicated server. However, I still would have purchased OpenVZ at some price difference. After a bit of research, however, I located Xen VPS's at practically the same price as the cheapest OpenVZ containers. That made my decision easy.

With that said, keep in mind that a bad hosting vendor can ruin either technology through various means. Both technologies share the disk drives and I/O paths as well as the processor cores. Hardware can be poorly configured and managed in any case. A reputable vendor is probably the single most important consideration in choosing a virtual server.

Lastly, carefully check the 'allowed use' policy. Make sure your application is allowed on the server you intend to purchase. Note that due to their different characteristics, the allowed use policy may differ between OpenVZ and Xen for the same host. Also, it's good to understand the memory usage characteristics of your applications. If you know how much memory/swap they require on a physical system, it'll probably work with that same amount of memory/swap on Xen.

[I'll post a review shortly of my current VPS vendor and I will then add a link to that article here.]

mail this link | permapage | score:9508 | -Ray, June 13, 2011

How to install Ubuntu Linux on the decTOP SFF computer

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I recently bought a decTOP small form factor (SFF) computer. My goal was to build a cheap, fanless, quiet, and low power consumption Linux server. For $99 plus the cheapest available shipping, $40, my machine arrived 11 days after I placed the order.

This is a tiny computer, about the size of a Mac Mini. But, because it has no fan, it runs a bit quieter and, with the help of a 1-watt, 366 MHz CPU, consumes only 8 watts. For comparison, the G4 Mac Mini consumes about 20-30 watts, depending on load.

The decTOP comes with 128 MB of RAM in its sole SO-DIMM slot and a 10 GB 3.5 inch hard drive. I understand that it's a simple matter to replace the drive and to upgrade the memory to a maximum of 512MB.

It also comes with no operating system and the ability to boot only from a USB drive. This article details the steps I used to build the USB boot/installation drive and install Ubuntu 6.06 on the decTOP.

There is another article -- with additional decTOP links -- here on installing Ubuntu 6.06 on the decTOP with the aid of a Windows system. Fortunately ;), I run Mac OS X and Linux (Ubuntu 7.04), so that article didn't work for me. I did the installation of the Ubuntu 6.06 LTS Server Edition using my Ubuntu Linux box and a 1 GB USB flash drive -- although a 512 MB USB drive should work as well.

  1. Download the Ubuntu 6.06 server ISO image from the Ubuntu download page. Depending on your plans for the decTOP, you might want to choose the desktop version. Unless you have already upgraded your decTOP's memory, however, you'll want to stick with the 6.06 releases.

  2. Install the mbr, mtools, and syslinux packages on the Linux system you'll be using to prepare the USB drive. If you run Ubuntu or some other Debian-derived system, the following commands may do the work for you.
    apt-get install mbr
    apt-get install mtools
    apt-get install syslinux
  3. Partition the USB drive with a single FAT-16 partition. I used the fdisk 'n' command to make the new primary partition 1. The fdisk 't' command can be used to change the partition type to FAT-16. My device name was /dev/sda.
    fdisk /dev/sda
  4. Make the FAT-16 partition the active partition. I used the fdisk 'a' command.

  5. Install a master boot record on the USB drive.
    install-mbr /dev/sda
  6. Install syslinux on the USB drive. Note that the USB drive should not be mounted when you do this.
    syslinux -s /dev/sda1
  7. Create a mountpoint and mount the ubuntu ISO image using the loopback device.
    mkdir /iso
    mount -o loop -t iso9660 ubuntu.iso /iso
  8. Create a mountpoint and mount the USB flash drive.
    mkdir /usb
    mount /dev/sda1 /usb
  9. Copy the contents of the ISO image to the USB drive. This will take some time.
    cd /iso
    cp -r . /usb/
  10. Copy the /usb/dists/dapper directory into a new /usb/dists/stable directory.
    cd /usb/dists/
    cp -r dapper/* stable
  11. Copy several files from /usb/install to the /usb root directory.
    cp /usb/install/vmlinuz /usb/
    cp /usb/install/mt86plus /usb/
    cp /usb/install/initrd.gz /usb/
  12. Install the following text into a file named syslinux.cfg in the /usb root directory.
    default vmlinuz
    append initrd=initrd.gz ramdisk_size=24000 root=/dev/ram rw
  13. Flush all writes, unmount, and remove the USB drive. After the sync step, wait for all of the data to be written to the USB drive.
    sync;sync
    umount /usb
  14. Connect the ethernet adapter to the decTOP and connect it to your network to allow automatic configuration of the network interface.

  15. Insert the USB drive into the decTOP and power it up. The decTOP should automatically boot from the USB drive and start the Ubuntu installation.

  16. Answer only the first two questions concerning language selection and go to the next step, below.

  17. Press Alt-F2 (hold down the Alt key and press the F2 function key) to open a shell. Then press enter to start the shell.

  18. Create a /cdrom and a /dev/cdroms directory in the installation ramdisk
    mkdir /cdrom /dev/cdroms
  19. Go to the /dev/cdroms directory and build a symlink from /dev/sda1 (that is likely the device name of your USB boot partition) to /dev/cdroms/cdrom0.
    cd /dev/cdroms
    ln -s ../sda1/cdrom0
  20. While still in the shell, mount the USB drive to mimic an installation CD-ROM.
    mount -t vfat /dev/cdroms/cdrom0 /cdrom
  21. Return to the installation program with Alt-F1 and continue the installation.

From this point, the process should be identical to a routine CD-ROM installation.

For a grand total of $140 and 8 watts of power consumption, I now have a near-silent Linux server running 24/7. You can telnet to it here and marvel at its blinding speed running a 250,000-sector Space Tyrant game.

mail this link | permapage | score:9487 | -Ray, August 16, 2007 (Updated: April 26, 2011)

Space Tyrant Index Page: Linux game server development project

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This page links to the various articles that have been published about Space Tyrant, a multithreaded, network socket programming Linux game server project in C.

[Update: 07Jun2014 You can play a development version of an upcoming MMORPG in text mode at telnet://textMMOde.com:2323
or, on a command line, enter:
telnet textmmode.com 2323
to log in and play. This game is based on Space Tyrant and the scenario is based on a modified Starship Traders.]

[Update: 03Jun2014 Starshiptraders, the parent of Space Tyrant, and the descendant of Czarwars, Lives Again]

Read below for the history and overview or just click these links for the articles:Space Tyrant is a C language Linux game server development project. It started out in February, 2005 as a humble echo server with high ambitions. On March 18, ST had its design and intentions announced to the world.
Today we kick off a new multithreaded, network socket programming project which we will call Space Tyrant. Our mission is to write an open source, multiplayer, networked, strategy game in the C programming language. The goal of this project is to make a solid code base which implements a simple space trading game upon which other games can then be built. The game will be a subset of The Last Resort (TLR) that currently runs at Ioresort.com. This project will be a learning exercise for me as well as for any interested readers. The current state of the source code will be released with each article update.
Source code to ST, then just an echo server, was not released.

Then, on March 27, 2005, ST was promoted to a crude chatserver.
This is the first code release of Space Tyrant. This is an early stage of development and, at this point, only implements the listening thread, the two IO threads for each player connection, and a skeletal game logic thread that does little beyond proof-of-concept code.
Next, on May 30, 2005, ST started to resemble some sort of incomplete text game.
It’s now possible to connect to the game via telnet and to create an account, log in, and be issued a ship. Once you’re logged in, there is a universe to explore filled with ports for buying and selling goods and planets for scooping free goods. From those trading activities you can earn money, called microbots. Other than trading to earn more money, you only use your microbots to buy fighters -- which you can use to attack other players or the neutral fighters that guard some sectors.
As of this release, the source code was placed under the GPL, version 2.

On June 26, 2005, Space Tyrant was released with many shiny new abilities. Players can now deploy fighters to guard sectors, navigate with the aid of an autopilot, rank the various players in the universe, and sleep peacefully knowing their alternate universe is being backed up constantly by a sporty new backup thread. Yes, good times are surely upon us.
If you’re looking for a planet, type the ‘L’ command that you would normally use to land on a planet in your sector. In the absence of a planet, the L key will engage the autopilot which will search for the nearest planet and give you a ‘/’ command to autowarp to it.
There is normally a copy of the development version of the server running on my decTOP on port 23. To access it, type (or click, if it works for you) the following command:

(telnet to my ST server)

The current development version of the code is usually at http://librenix.com/st/st.c but the individual articles link to the specific versions discussed in each article.

You can mail me about the project at spacetyrant [at] librenix.com -- or you can just telnet into Space Tyrant, as listed above, and send me a radio message. I'm likely to get that faster. ;)


The Space Tyrant project has a new website, SpaceTyrant.com, where the latest source code is always available. Also, new articles about ST programming and about ST gameplay will be posted there as they come available.


Information on The Last Resort follows. TLR is one of the two games that Space Tyrant is intended to replace someday. Space Tyrant has a long way to go before it replicates TLR's 25,000 lines of C code. So far, it has reused only about 40 lines of TLR code, a handy 'bit-plane' sort dating back to 1998.

  • TLR Survival Manual
  • Is this game for you? read more...
  • mail this link | permapage | score:9471 | -Ray, June 25, 2005 (Updated: June 7, 2014)

    Currency Traders on Raspberry Pi

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    You can now run Currency Traders on your Raspberry Pi. It is extremely efficient and takes only about 2.2% of the memory of a 512MB RPi and less than 0.5% of the CPU. More CPU will be consumed when players are online, of course, but it should support up to a hundred or so concurrent players on a normally clocked Pi.

    The installation is four quick steps, described in the readme.txt file. The entire system is a single binary, available either dynamically linked or statically linked. The static version should work on most any Pi running most any Linux. The dynamically-linked version was compiled and tested on Raspbian Wheezy and may work without library fiddling on other Pi Linuxes. [links removed]
    read more...
    mail this link | permapage | score:9439 | -Ray, March 3, 2013 (Updated: May 13, 2014)

    Linux file manager comparison review

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    Reviewing and rating six of the best Linux file managers...
    The litmus test for any file manager, then, is its ability to manage large numbers of files efficiently, and this is one of the two main criteria for the applications in this roundup. Our other primary concern is advocacy. Could each file manager here help convince inexperienced Linux users that the OS can be either familiar and easy to use, or different in that it's much more flexible than what they've previously experienced?
    read more...
    mail this link | permapage | score:9417 | -Ray, April 20, 2011

    Librenix T-Shirts and Coffee Mugs!

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    For today's example of my (semi)elite C programming skilz, I submit for your inspection the Librenix T-Shirts! Yes, I created the images on these shirts and coffee mugs entirely with C code. While the code isn't up to the standards *cough* of my open source Space Tyrant project, at least the output is colorful and not entirely textual!


    click either image to see the T-Shirts, Coffee Mugs, etc.

    (If you like the images but don't care for 'librenix' on your shirt, these same styles are available for all 50 US state names as well as with the signs of the zodiac here)

    (and here are some modern prints)
    mail this link | permapage | score:9411 | -Ray, June 6, 2010 (Updated: May 13, 2014)

    The best lightweight Linux

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    A subjective assessment of several leading small-footprint Linux distributions...
    In selecting our shortlist, we've left out some contenders either because they didn't support older processors, they wouldn't install in 4GB or less of space, they simply didn't work on our hardware or they're no longer being maintained (as is the case for both RULE and U-Lite). The one exception to this is Damn Small Linux - although it has been over a year since the last release, and the homepage is as quiet as the LXF office at 9.30 on a Monday morning, this is still such a widely used and influential project that it was considered worthy of inclusion.
    read more...
    mail this link | permapage | score:9410 | -Ray, April 11, 2010

    Alternative operating systems

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    The ten best alternative OSes, none of which are from Microsof or Apple, nor are any based on Linux. Operating systems covered are:
    • GNU/HURD (RMS' never-quite-done free OS, predates Linux(!))
    • JNode (written in Java)
    • FreeVMS (DEC's famous VMS)
    • DexOS (tiny, console-like GUI)
    • Inferno (distributed, device-sharing)
    • KolibriOS (MenuetOS fork, tiny, written in Assembly)
    • OpenBSD (a BSD variant specializing in security, correctness)
    • AROS (Amiga Research Operating System )
    • ReactOS (Windows clone)
    • Haiku (BeOS clone)
    From the article:
    Big companies can grow reticent to change, slow to move and adopt new technologies. Features must be escalated through approval bodies, management and bean-counters. Hobbyist projects don't have those commercial pressures and can experiment freely.

    It might seem audacious to claim that the next Windows is cooking in some part-time coder's house, but it's nothing new. Microsoft's OS empire started with the purchase of QDOS, which stood for 'Quick and Dirty Operating System'. Apple didn't create Mac OS X out of thin air, but took an open source kernel and some BSD code (grounded in academia) to get the foundations of its operating system working.
    read more...
    mail this link | permapage | score:9391 | -Ray, March 16, 2011

    Ubuntu 11.04 Preview

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    An early look at the next release of Ubuntu Linux...
    Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) Beta 1 is powered by Linux kernel 2.6.38, GNOME 2.32.1 and X.Org 7.5. It will included applications such as LibreOffice 3.3.2 as the default office suite, Banshee 1.9.4 as the default audio player/organizer and Mozilla Firefox 4.0 as the default web browser.

    A set of seventeen new and beautiful wallpapers will also be present in the Beta release, to please every Ubuntu user out there. And now, the features we've promised...
    read more...
    mail this link | permapage | score:9387 | -Ray, April 1, 2011
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