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The word "Linux" encompasses my favorite OS flavors like Debian and Ubuntu.

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2010 October 11 [Monday]

Extract msi archive format on Ubuntu

I was googling for some information which was only available in a .msi archive format which I could not extract directly on ubuntu. Since I didnt have windows on the machine, I could not extract it there and just copy the files over to linux.

On ubuntu, installing WINE (and trying to extract with msiexec) didnt work -- wine kept whining about it not being an executable (on linux? *g*), the source being from an untrusted source, etc...

Next, I tried p7zip -- install it with

sudo apt-get install p7zip-full

Then, change directories, and type:

7z x filename.msi

While this extracts all the files, it will still not be easily viewable nor is it usable -- windows executable dlls, bitmaps, windows installer package, microsoft cabinet archive, some icons, and other useless cruft compressed in the folder. Other than manually digging out text files for the information, there was no easy option.

The data was locked inside the database (hint, extract the cabinet archive) in the .mbd (MS Access) format. Google threw some perl modules to convert a .mbd file to .txt. BUT there was a gnome mbd-reader tool which you can easily install with

sudo apt-get install mdbtools

sudo apt-get install mdbtools-gmdb

Then, click on Applications>Office>MDB Viewer.

In Ubuntu, mdbtools includes command line tools such as mdb-export and mdb-schema and to export data from the MS Access .mdb files, extract contents from each table from each .mdb file through the shell --for which one needs to determine table names before using:

mdbtools <filename.mdb> <table name> <output_filename.txt>

mdb-export filename.mdb tblfoo

The compressed archice included among other things, files with .ocx and .tlb extensions. More googling (yay!)

TLB, a Visual Basic OLE Type Library, is a binary file containing all the type information for using procedures or classes in DLLs.


o. mdb-tools and postgresql script

2010 September 8 [Wednesday]

Postgresql packaging bug in Lucid

Postgresql-8.4 is the packaged version for Ubuntu 10.04 (aka lucid) but earlier today I purged and reinstalled it and found a packaging bug -- sudo aptitude purge postgresql does not cleanly remove the conf files from the filesystem if they had been edited. All the older edits I had made to /etc/postgresql/8.4/main/pg_hba.conf and /etc/postgresql/8.4/main/pg_ident.conf files were intact after the reinstallation. So the new re-installation would throw weird errors.

Ideally aptitude/apt-get 'purge' is the cleanest way to uninstall software but if you have customized the configuration settings in a DB you would not like to lose those changes (especially because you may have installed the database a long time ago and may not remember each change for different apps that use the DB.

Sounds good but in theory a 'purge' littering your filesystem with edited files makes it hard for folks to hunt out which file was leftover and whether re-editing "foo.conf" would get "foo-application" running smoothly.  For smaller single packages its probably easy to script a list of files from the original package and check the filesystem against that list but what if you had an installation that had 80+ odd installation steps for multiple packages that depend on each other ...that is a lot of retracing -- the installation and purging of 80+ installation steps is scriptable but a clean reinstallation of your OS is far less time-consuming, not to mention the resource savings.

2010 May 5 [Wednesday]

Not so Lucid

Last weekend I upgraded to Lucid (Ubuntu 10.04) and these changes dont bother me at all, albeit the GUI changes were shocking at first-- buttons to close/maximize/minimize your application window are now on the left hand side and each new tab you open pushes the first ones to your right-- but being a forced right handed person has its advantages..... moi does adapt quickly...to the extent that 2-3 days into it, I like this quirky change.

I've always secretly wished a left-alignment over the years, especially when the gui window or browser overshot the screen visibility limits with no way to close the application. The left hand side of the frame is fixed. Its left me wondering why the UI was not developed with left-uppermost in mind --its the way we read and its just seems natural to let the left take over. Pun (un)intended. I might even be tempted to buy a left-handed mouse if the scroll buttons moved over to the left :) YMMV.

However, my personal break point from lucid was for divergent reasons. Its twofold- One, ssh. Although the server I tunnel into had issues with the ISP, the strange weirdness occurs after I tunnel in. Any key I type (even space bar or page down) after ssh'ing into the server throws gibberish :

debug3: Wrote 48 bytes for a total of 61063
debug3: Wrote 48 bytes for a total of 61111
debug3: Wrote 48 bytes for a total of 61159
debug3: Wrote 48 bytes for a total of 61207
debug3: Wrote 48 bytes for a total of 61255
debug3: Wrote 48 bytes for a total of 61303

These debug errors are not much fun when I cant see anything that I type on screen and since the screen scrolls, I am forced to copy paste from a text editor. Ssh just sucks atm.  Other server users dont have the same issue so I am wondering if this is lucid not handling ssh properly. I am not sure and dont have the time to experiment as I need stability ATM, which is tied to the second reason for not using lucid-- development takes place on 8.04 LTS, and I can safely revert  to 9.10 for personal use and not miss much.

UPDATE: No solutions came forth on IRC, except for a 'hald' suggestion which I need to read. Meanwhile, to cross check I tried logging in via another partition that runs 8.04LTS with the same -v (that is the verbose debug option) option that I used on 9.10 and on 10.04. It works like a charm everywhere except on the ubuntu 10.04 partition. On the face of it, it seems like a lucid bug but since I dont have much to go on, i cant file a bug. Arghh..

2009 December 30 [Wednesday]

Teach kids Linux and Science via games

Some weeks ago, I had asked a women-only list how to engage a bunch of 5-12 y.o kids with science and math via linux in a fun, engaging way. Telling kids to learn foo-programming language is not my idea of a fun learning experience. My dislike for multimedia learning tools in pirated CD's with propreitary software extends to gizmos like playstations and Wii (no offense).

I'd love to see floss tools that teach algebra and geometry in a fun way without the scary "math" word, but existing floss tools are highly limited in quantity and mostly target the pre-teen and teen's for Science learning. Think alice.org, which is at the other end of the spectrum expecting some user/learner contribution, a wee bit much for a 5-7 y.o to grasp. 

When I saw a similar post by Adam, who is looking for kids games, the thought of sharing the interesting responses these women gave came up but I cant post their experiences sans permission, so I'll just post the links and names of the games they responded with.

#0. Squeak or Scratch.

#1. MIT also has the physics simulations gallery on their Scratch site.

#2. A TED talk by Alan Kay about teaching kids

#3. TUX racer game.

#4. Yahtzee game.

#5. Mahjongg. [I think this is a good pattern matching and visual game]

#6. A hello world programming book for teens and maybe even pre-teens.

#7. World of Goo : http://2dboy.com/games.php [physics based puzzle construction game for kids]

#8. Blender.

#9. Pingus, available in the Ubuntu repository.

#10. Picocricket (basic microcontroller programming, sensors, actuators): http://www.picocricket.com/picoboard.html

Some links from Adams blog need internet access while others dont.

#10. http://www.neave.com/games/

#11. http://gcompris.net/  [apt-get the recent GCompris version from Thomas Petazzoni's Unofficial debian repo]

#12. http://www.neopets.com

Returning to games that you can install on your linux machine, there is a whole range of games available in the debian/ubuntu repos and your default Ubuntu installation categorizes the logic games under Applications>Games>Logic, and the ones which I like are Klotski, Five or more, Same Gnome and Sudoku. Some kids (under 10 yrs) love Mahjongg, but then some games are suitable for anyone interested enough to try it.
Having said that, I still feel that a machine cannot (and should not) replace the human touch. The natural curiosity of a kid's mind is something a machine can never replicate, currently atleast. That is where atleast one parent or relative or friend or teacher who makes science interesting will help a kid assimilate and relate to science a lot more than schools dumping linux or science on them in grade 5, or whenever it is that schools introduce computers to kids. For example, Just spin a yarn around the Chinese postman problem, and the kids wont even realise they solved a wee bit of graph theory.  This may perhaps be my cognitive bias speaking so i'll just echo Stephen's thoughts : http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/09/operating-system-for-mind.html (a must read).

2008 June 7 [Saturday]

Libre software in Indian schools

Do you know if Karnataka state has any Libre software curriculum in its schools ? If yes, are any books published? Email me, if you know anything about the Karnataka school scenario.

I need this information since I had volunteered to teach computers at a local special needs school and it goes without saying that I was pushing for Libre software but now I am having second thoughts about teaching them skills which will not prove useful (read, in getting a job). I know Kerala and Delhi have gone the Libre software way but what about Karnataka schools ?

In the final analysis, my personal choice does not matter, especially if the Org i am volunteering with aims to make them self-reliant with skills to match and ultimately independent. I have to remember these are people with physical challenges and we all know how easy it is in India for such people. Heck, normal people have a tough time finding jobs so I dont view the world with rosy linux-tinted glasses. And then there is the Indian penchant for certificates, degrees and other assorted pieces of paper, to prove your skills so to speak.... bleh, do i need to rant about that.

The last few weeks i asked around, the situation was dismal... each school has its own idea of how to promote computer education in schools, each has its own text-books all teaching proprietary software :(

The worst part, ALL the schools are only interested in making money - parents are charged extra money per month as part of "computer education", lab fees, etc... When i heard that students in grade1, grade2 were being taught computers, out of sheer curiosity, I caught hold of those kids and lo and behold, their notebooks had nice colored pictures of a monitor, printer, laptop, with the teacher's red-ink-tick-mark with a "good" sign for the color not going out of the lines. How interesting!!

Next, a talk with the teacher's teaching the subject -- i wanted to know at what age or grade the kids actually touched the computer -- ahem, *cough* not before grade-8, i was told.

Apparently, this is the case with almost every school so i am not shocked, just disappointed that parents pay fees but dont really get the value for their buck. Sad state of affairs this.

2007 May 15 [Tuesday]

Launchpad answers

So you want to ask "how can I get or install ubuntu?" but worry about being flamed for asking that (so-called) silly question ... fear not .. Launchpad answers all your questions ..oops, its real people (volunteers) who actually take the time out to answer your questions :-)

LP also has a feature that suggests possible similar questions. But I would like to see something like the irc factoid bot which processes incoming questions and answers repetitive questions automatically .... That would be so cool.

2006 June 29 [Thursday]

Ubuntu newsletter

Some months ago while dredging for ideas to make women participate more in Ubuntu via Ubuntu-Women, I had suggested a Bi-weekly development Newsletter. I did find the random, un-structured way of finding information on the wiki a bit tedious at times but moreso the latest info is only available if you followed the various Mailing lists. So imagine sifting through all that mail simply to find out what is happening .. and where?

Ofcourse, a bi-weekly newsletter would also have been a convenient way for women to start volunteering in any Mukt (free software) OS community besides the whats-up now factor. Happily, the task has been undertaken by the Documentation team in the form of a Weekly Newsletter, which is even better. So enjoy the hot-off-the-press Issue #4 !

I finally tried out GIMP

Earlier this month I changed the theme template for my blog and used a nice one from Wordpress. To my horror, my blog was so horribly broken that I could not even log back and change the darn theme. Ever notice how everything that can go wrong does so at the same time. Well, at one point I was not sure if it was due to the CSS file that I had changed .... so to cut a long story short, an upgrade resolved it.

Among all this confusion, I wanted to change some images and started to use Gimp (finally), which I always found a wee bit intimidating. Ofcourse, its not easy to do a freehand sketches/designs using the bulky mouse and for that reason alone I still prefer a pencil and paper. I have yet learn how to create solid and symmetrical designs using Gimp (if that is possible) but the easier way would be to draw the designs on paper and scan for later editing. Hmm... will have to try that sometime !

2006 February 26 [Sunday]

Ubuntu-Women mailing list

I am so excited to announce that the ubuntu-women mailing list is now up for subscriptions. Yay1

I just sent a quick note to the ubuntu-women, ubuntu-announce list and linuxchix-announce list - LC is another women-oriented technical space where i volunteer.

Immediately, I got a some sweet and encouraging emails from a few women (and guys too) which tells me i am on the right path. Thanks for the encouragement and please join us and make ubuntu rock (which it already does ;-)) even more and UW got a mention on LWN too :)

Here is another announcement at LWN.

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