Review: Hacking Vim


Some of my faithful visitors may have noticed that I have a thing for Vim, one of the oldest and most powerful text editors in the world. In the past 15 or so years that I've been developing, I have spent quite a bit of time in several different text editors. It seemed like I was continually on the quest to find the fastest, most feature-packed editor out there, while still being cross-platform compatible and having it stay out of my way. Speed has always been very important to me.

I have been using Vi and Vim regularly since about 2000, when I began dabbling with Linux. I could certainly hold my ground in either of the two programs, but I was by no means proficient. The more appealing text editors for me offered syntax highlighting and code completion. At the time, I was under the impression that Vi/Vim didn't offer either of these two features. It wasn't until around the middle of last year, however, that I really started putting effort into learning and using Vim. After asking some of my Vim-savvy friends a lot of questions to get me kickstarted, I began to see the power that lies in Vim.

Before long, Vim had replaced all other text editors as my preferred editing environment. I learned that Vim could satisfy just able every single one of my personal qualifications for the perfect editor. I dumped all other editors in favor of Vim, and I even opted to use Vim over a several hundred dollar IDE at work.

Anyway. I received a review copy of Kim Schulz' "Hacking Vim: A cookbook to get the most out of the latest Vim editor" a couple of months ago and have been rummaging through it since then. I have learned a ton of fantastic tips from this little book! Being a cookbook, you're not expected to read the entire book start to finish. Rather, you can dig right into whatever section interests you and feel right at home.

Brief Overview

Packt Publishing printed this book back in 2007, but all of the tips are still very much up-to-date. The book starts off with the obligatory history lesson (which is actually quite interesting if you're a nerd like me), and the target audience is described as such:

New users join the Vim user community every day and want to use this editor in their daily work, and even though Vim sometimes can be complex to use, they still favor it above other editors. This is a book for these Vim users.

After the history lesson, chapter 2 of the book digs right into personalizing Vim to fit your own preferences. Topics covered include:

  • changing fonts
  • changing color schemes
  • personalizing highlighting
  • customizing the status line
  • toggling menus and toolbars in gvim
  • adding your own menu items and toolbar buttons
  • customizing your work area

Chapter 3 discusses better navigation techniques. Topics covered include:

  • faster navigation in a file
  • faster navigation in the Vim help system
  • faster navigation in multiple buffers
  • in-file searching
  • searching in multiple files or buffers
  • using marks and signs

Chapter 4, titled "Production Boosters" discusses the following:

  • templates using simple template file
  • templates using abbreviations
  • auto-completion using known words and tag lists
  • auto-completion using omni-completion
  • macros
  • sessions
  • registers and undo branches
  • folding
  • vimdiff
  • opening remote files using Netrw

Chapter 5 introduces some advanced formatting tips. You can learn how to put text into nicely-formatted paragraphs, aligning text, marking headlines, and creating lists. For code, this chapter discusses several different indentation options.

Vim scripting is the topic of chapter 6, and Schulz covers a wide variety of useful tips to get anyone started on scripting Vim to do their bidding. Tips include:

  • creating syntax-coloring scripts
  • how to install and use scripts
  • different types of scripts
  • basic syntax of Vim scripts
  • how to structure Vim scripts
  • debugging a Vim script
  • using other scripting languages (Perl, Python, Ruby)

Appendix A describes how Vim can be used for much more than just text editing. Several different games, including Tetris and a Rubik's Cube are briefly introduced, along with how to use Vim as a mail client or programmer's IDE. Appendix B suggests miscellaneous configuration script maintenance tips, such as how you can maintain the same configuration script across several different machines.

My Thoughts

I was very impressed with this book. I was afraid that, being published in 2007, it might be a little too out-of-date for my personal tastes. Since the book is about Vim, though, I wasn't overly concerned (the editor has been around for decades, and it doesn't change drastically from release to release anymore).

Just like the last book I reviewed, I found several typos in this book. A lot of the typos were in the first few pages of the actual content, and some were definitely more minor than others. This sort of thing doesn't really detract much from the material covered, but it sure does stand out as a distraction for people who pay attention to details.

Here are some of the things that I truly enjoyed reading and learning about (many of which actually made my jaw drop in awe of Vim)

  • Specifying multiple fonts for GVim, just in case your first choice isn't always available:

    :set guifont=Courier\ New\ 12, Arial\ 10
  • Specifying different font faces based on the extension of the file you're editing:

    :autocmd BufEnter *.txt set guifont=Arial\ 12
  • Highlighting the line your cursor is currently on, and the column the cursor is in:

    :set cursorline
    :set cursorcolumn
  • Limiting the number of suggestions that the spell checker offers:

    :set spellsuggest=5
  • Navigating to different words based on whitespace instead of "regular" word separators:

    • W to move to the beginning of the next word
    • B to move to the beginning of the previous word
    • E to move to the beginning of the previous word

    I knew about the lowercase variations of these commands, but not the uppercase.

  • Navigating up and down in the same long, wrapped line:

  • Opening a file that is referenced in the current buffer:


    I learned that this even works on Python imports! Just like the description says, it will work on the import module, not classes or other objects from inside the module. Not quite that intelligent!

  • Incremental searching:

    :set incsearch
  • Searching up/down in a buffer for any occurrence of the word under the cursor:


    I knew about the usual # and *, but those two will only match the same exact word. When they're prefixed with g, they will match any occurrence of the word, be it whole or part of another word. For example, hitting g* while the cursor is over the word foo would would match both food and foobar, while * would match neither.

  • Using markers to jump between specific points in different open buffers (mA through mZ)

  • Prepopulating empty files based on their extension:

    :autocmd BufNewFile * silent! 0r $VIMHOME/templates/%:e.tpl
  • Formatting a paragraph of text:

  • Formatting all paragraphs of text in a file:

  • Smart indentation:

    :set smartindent
  • Enabling paste mode, so smartindent doesn't try to format code that you paste into your buffer:

    :set paste
  • Prettifying XML and HTML using Tidy:

    :autocmd FileType xml exe ":silent 1,$!tidy --input-xml true --indent yes -q"
    :autocmd FileType html,htm exe ":silent 1,$!tidy --indent yes -q"


All in all, this is a fantastic book. I will be keeping it near my workstation as a quick reference book when I want to do something crazy with Vim. I've already recommended the book to several of my friends and acquaintances, and I will make the same recommendation here. If you are mildly familiar with Vim and at all interested in getting more out of this fabulous editor, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book.

Review: Django 1.0 Web Site Development


Several months ago, a UK-based book publisher, Packt Publishing contacted me to ask if I would be willing to review one of their books about Django. I gladly jumped at the opportunity, and I received a copy of the book a couple of weeks later in the mail. This happened at the beginning of September 2009. It just so happened that I was in the process of being hired on by ScienceLogic right when all of this took place. The subsequent weeks were filled to the brim with visitors, packing, moving, finding an apartment, and commuting to my new job. It was pretty stressful.

Things are finally settling down, so I've taken the time to actually review the book I was asked to review. I should mention right off the bat that this is indeed a solicited review, but I am in no way influenced to write a good or bad review. Packt Publishing simply wants me to offer an honest review of the book, and that is what I indend to do. While reviewing the book, I decided to follow along and write the code the book introduced. I made sure that I was using the official Django 1.0 release instead of using trunk like I tend to do for my own projects.

The title of the book is Django 1.0 Web Site Development, written by Ayman Hourieh, and it's only 250 pages long. Ayman described the audience of the book as such:

This book is for web developers who want to learn how to build a complete site with Web 2.0 features, using the power of a proven and popular development system--Django--but do not necessarily want to learn how a complete framework functions in order to do this. Basic knowledge of Python development is required for this book, but no knowledge of Django is expected.

Ayman introduced Django piece by piece using the end goal of a social bookmarking site, a la and reddit. In the first chapter of the book, Ayman discussed the history of Django and why Python and Django are a good platform upon which to build Web applications. The second chapter offers a brief guide to installing Python and Django, and getting your first project setup. Not much to comment on here.

Digging In

Chapter three is where the reader was introduced to the basic structure of a Django project, and the initial data models were described. Chapter four discussed user registration and management. We made it possible for users to create accounts, log into them, and log out again. As part of those additions, the django.forms framework was introduced.

In chapter five, we made it possible for bookmarks to be tagged. Along with that, we built a tag cloud, restricted access to certain pages, and added a little protection against malicious data input. Next up was the section where things actually started getting interesting for me: enhancing the interface with fancy effects and AJAX. The fancy effects include live searching for bookmarks, being able to edit a bookmark in place (without loading a new page), and auto-completing tags when you submit a bookmark.

This chapter really reminded me just how simple it is to add new, useful features to existing code using Django and Python. I was thoroughly impressed at how easy it was to add the AJAX functionality mentioned above. Auto-completing the tags as you type, while jQuery and friends did most of the work, was very easy to implement. It made me happy.

Chapter seven introduced some code that allowed users to share their bookmarks with others. Along with this, the ability to vote on shared bookmarks was added. Another feature that was added in this chapter was the ability for users to comment on various bookmarks.

The ridiculously amazing Django Administration utility was first introduced in chapter eight. It kinda surprised me that it took 150 pages before this feature was brought to the user's attention. In my opinion, this is one of the most useful selling points when one is considering a Web framework for a project. When I first encountered Django, the admin interface was one of maybe three deciding factors in our company's decision to become a full-on Django shop.

Bring on the Web 2.0

Anyway, in chapter nine, we added a handful of useful "Web 2.0" features. RSS feeds were introduced. We learned about pagination to enhance usability and performance. We also improved the search engine in our project. At this stage, the magical Q objects were mentioned. The power behind the Q objects was discussed very well, in my opinion.

In chapter 10, we were taught how we can create relationships between members on the site. We made it possible for users to become "friends" so they can see the latest bookmarks posted by their friends. We also added an option for users to be able to invite some of their other friends to join the site via email, complete with activation links. Finally, we improved the user interface by providing a little bit of feedback to the user at various points using the messages framework that is part of the django.contrib.auth package in Django 1.0.

More advanced topics, such as internationalization and caching, were discussed in chapter 11. Django's special unit testing features were also introduced in chapter 11. This section actually kinda frustrated me. Caching was discussed immediately before unit testing. In the caching section, we learned how to enable site-wide caching. This actually broke the unit tests. They failed because the caching system was "read only" while running the tests. Anyway, it's probably more or less a moot point.

Chapter 11 also briefly introduced things to pay attention to when you deploy your Django projects into a production environment. This portion was mildly disappointing, but I don't know what else would have made it better. There are so many functional ways to deploy Django projects that you could write books just to describe the minutia involved in deployment.

The twelfth and final chapter discussed some of the other things that Django has to offer, such as enhanced functionality in templates using custom template tags and filters and model managers. Generic views were mentioned, and some of the other useful things in django.contrib were brought up. Ayman also offered a few ideas of additional functionality that the reader can implement on their own, using the things they learned throughout the book.


Overall, I felt that this book did a great job of introducing the power that lies in using Django as your framework of choice. I thought Ayman managed to break things up into logical sections, and that the iterations used to enhance existing functionality (from earlier chapters) were superbly executed. I think that this book, while it does assume some prior Python knowledge, would be a fine choice for those who are curious to dig into Django quickly and easily.

Some of the beefs I have with this book deal mostly with the editing. There were a lot of strange things that I found while reading through the book. However, the biggest sticking point for me has to do with "pluggable" applications. Earlier I mentioned that the built-in Django admin was one of only a few deciding factors in my company's choice to become a Django shop. Django was designed to allow its applications to be very "pluggable."

You may be asking, "What do I mean by 'pluggable'?" Well, say you decide to build a website that includes a blog, so you build a Django project and create an application specific to blogging. Then, at some later time, you need to build another site that also has blog functionality. Do you want to rewrite all of the blogging code for the second site? Or do you want to use the same code that you used in the first site (without copying it)? If you're anything like me and thousands of other developers out there, you would probably rather leverage the work you had already done. Django allows you to do this if you build your Django applications properly.

This book, however, makes no such effort to teach the reader how to turn all of their hard work on the social bookmarking features into something they could reuse over and over with minimal effort in the future. Application-specific templates are placed directly into the global templates directory. Application-specific URLconfs are placed in the root file. I would have liked to see at least some effort to make the bookmarking application have the potential to be reused.

Finally, the most obvious gripe is that the book is outdated. That's understandable, though! Anything in print media will likely be outdated the second it is printed if the book has anything to do with computers. However, with the understanding that this book was written specifically for Django 1.0 and not Django 1.1 or 1.2 alpha, it does an excellent job at hitting the mark.

Recent Events

This entry is more of a personal nature than technical. I owe my visitors an explanation for the lack of activity on my part for the past few months. I plan on describing what has been occupying so much of my time, and also addressing what I plan to be doing to occupy my time in the near future.

First of all, our little baby boy was born last month, on the 8th of August. It has been a treat to have him finally join us, and I spend quite a bit of time with him. I currently work from home, so just about any chance I get I run over and play with Logan for a few minutes. It's great!

Much of the past month and a half or more has been spent adjusting to the new lifestyle with an infant and working from home. It's very easy to get distracted. Another part of the past several months has been spent searching for new employment.

I graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho in April 2009 with a BS in information systems and a minor in accounting. My wife and I have been looking at jobs since before I graduated. With the arrival of our son, the quest became a bit more urgent (we were uninsured). It got to the point where it wasn't unusual for me to be applying to between 5 and 10 jobs a night. After more than 6 months of searching and applying to probably close to 100 jobs, things finally got a little more interesting.

A couple of weeks ago, I began doing my traditional job search/application routine. I saw a posting for a Python developer position, and the description sounded right up my alley. My first thought was, "Oh, I'll never get that--it's too good to be true. It sure can't hurt to apply though!" So I did. I shot my resume off to the specified e-mail address and went on looking for other new positions.

I was looking at jobs until about 5am that night (starting at about 8pm the previous day). My wife finally convinced me that I needed to get some sleep. I woke up again at 9am, and I couldn't go back to sleep for some reason. I had an unsolicited email from some contract position in Arizona in my inbox when I woke up. I kindly wrote back, informing the individual that my wife and I were more interested in permanent options. Then I got out of bed and described that exciting part of my morning to my wife.

A few minutes later, I looked over at my computer, and I noticed that I had a new e-mail in my inbox. I decided to take a closer look. To my surprise, it was a response from the Python developer position I had applied to a mere 13 hours earlier. The message was from the company's CTO, and he wanted to make sure I understood that the job would require relocation. My response informed the CTO that my wife grew up in the area, and that we were definitely willing to relocate (especially considering that this was the first time anyone has gotten back to me about a full-time, permanent position).

Only a couple minutes after sending off that reply, the CTO wrote back again to set up a phone interview. Having only been awake for just over two hours, after a 4-hour nap, I was very excited about the progress of my day thus far. The phone interview seemed to go very well. It lasted a solid 40 minutes. I actually really enjoyed the interview, which is really saying something because I abhor telephones. But my interviewers were very nice and easy to talk to.

The interview consisted of several questions to gauge my understanding of various things, including Linux, Python, and MySQL. The questions were all very fun for me. Thankfully, I was able to respond relatively clearly, or at least clear enough for those on the other end of the line to get a decent feel for what I know.

Only a few minutes after the interview concluded, I received another phone call from the company. They set me up with a flight for the following Monday (the interview took place on a Friday), and booked a king suite in a fantastic hotel for me to stay in. This was all within about 16 hours of sending my resume to the company.

I flew out of Idaho Falls on Monday afternoon and arrived at the hotel around 10pm at night. I set three alarms (I'm a deep sleeper) to make sure I'd wake up with plenty of time to make it to the office, chatted with my wife for a bit, and passed out. The bed was amazing after being on an airplane for half a day.

Tuesday morning, I headed out to the office at about 9:45 for my 10am meeting. I arrived a little early and had enough time to meet some of the great people there. It wasn't long before I found myself in the CTO's office, starting the real interview process.

We spent the rest of that morning and several hours of the afternoon in a grill session. The CTO and lead developers grilled me all over the place, asking very interesting questions. I felt like I had wasted their time and money, because I could not formulate very acceptable answers to several of the questions. There were several questions that I had to answer flat-out, "I don't know." It was a very stressful morning.

I think if I were in their shoes, I probably would have booted me out the door. Though, I do have to say, I feel like I learned more about Python and MySQL from those few hours with the developers than I had learned in a very, very long time. These folks are very intelligent.

After all of that, the CTO, the two lead developers who were grilling me, and I all went out to eat. We ate some delicious food, had some fun conversations, and then started to talk about the benefits package that the company offers.

After lunch, we returned to the office, played a little guitar, and then the CTO called me into his office. He handed me an offer. It was far more generous than my wife and I had hoped, so I accepted it on the spot. He and I discussed a few things pertaining to my new job, and he then dropped me off at my hotel. I spent the rest of the evening trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened and sharing the news with all of my friends and family.

I begin work for ScienceLogic, LLC as a Software Architect on the 5th of October. I immediately submitted my official 2-week notice when I arrived back in my hotel room. When I returned home, my wife and I had to scramble to get everything set for how and when we were going to move. We are going to be driving out to Virginia on Tuesday, the 29th of September. It's about a 2,200-mile drive.

So. There you have it. We had a baby, I got a new job, and we're in the process of moving. Oh, and one other exciting bit of news. Packt Publishing has asked me to review one of their Django books! I have received the book, and I will read it and post my review as soon as things settle down a bit more. Stay tuned!

Installing Slackware 12.2 On Your EeePC (701 4G, in my case)

Welcome to my second article about installing Slackware on an Asus EeePC. This is a follow-up article to the one I posted in May 2008 soon after Slackware 12.1 was released. In this article, I will assume that you're doing a fresh installation of Slackware 12.2 and that you have access to an external USB CD/DVD ROM drive.

In all honesty, the installation process is extremely similar to what I did with 12.1. However, looking back at my previous article, I realize that my steps may not have been the most useful in the world. This time around I will try to be more helpful.

Getting Slackware

The first, and most obvious step, is to get a copy of Slackware. Simply head on over to and retrieve the appropriate ISO(s) using whichever method you prefer. I downloaded the DVD version of Slackware. If you download the CD ISOs, you really only need the first 3 ISOs. The remaining 3 are source packages for the binary packages you install from the first three discs. Rarely do you need the source code for these packages.

After retrieving the Slackware ISO(s), you must burn them to a disc of some sort: ISOs that are ~650MB should be burned to CDs and anything larger should (obviously) be burned to a DVD. Be sure you burn each ISO using the "burn disc image" functionality in your disc writing software--simply burning the ISO file onto the disc in a regular data session will not do what we need.

Booting The Install Disc

After you have a good copy of the installation disc (the DVD or the first of the CDs), put the disc into your CD/DVD ROM drive and reboot your computer. To ensure that your computer boots from the disc rather than the hard drive, hit F2 when you see the initial boot screen. Then go to the "Boot" tab and verify that your external CD/DVD drive takes precedence over the internal SSD. While we're in the BIOS, let's hop over to the "Advanced" tab and set "OS Installation" to "Start". This will increase the chances that your external drive will be recognized or something.... mine didn't work until I made that change. When you're all done with that, exit your BIOS, saving your changes.

The computer will reboot, and it should access your installation disc immediately after the initial boot screen disappears. Once you boot from the installation disc, you should be presented with a screen which allows you to pass some settings to the installation kernel.

The installation boot screen

To make the installation go faster, use the following boot string:

hugesmp.s hdc=noprobe

This makes it so the installation will see the internal SSD as /dev/sda instead of /dev/hdc, which also boosts the read/write times by about 13 times.

During the boot process you will be asked to specify your keyboard map. Unless you want something special here, just hit the enter key to proceed.

Partition Your SSD

Next you will need to login as root and partition your SSD. You can do this using one of the following two commands:

fdisk /dev/sda
cfdisk /dev/sda

Here are some steps in case you're not familiar with these utilities:

  1. Remove all partitions (unless you know what you're doing)
    1. fdisk: d to delete (you may have to select multiple partitions to delete if you have more than one for some reason)
    2. cfdisk: Select all partitions individually with up/down arrow keys and use the left/right arrow keys to select delete from the menu at the bottom. Hit enter to run the delete command when it's highlighted.
  2. Create one partition that takes the whole SSD (again, unless you know what you're doing)
    1. fdisk: n (for new); enter; p (for primary); enter; 1 (for the first primary partition); enter; enter (to start at the beginning of the drive); enter (to select the end of the drive)
    2. cfdisk: Select the new command with the left/right arrow keys and hit enter when it's selected. Make it a primary partition, and have it take the whole SSD (3997.49MB in my case).
  3. Set the type of the new partition to be Linux
    1. fdisk: t (for type); enter; 83 (for Linux); enter
    2. cfdisk: Use the left/right arrow keys to select the type command at the bottom and hit enter when it's selected. Choose 83.
  4. Set the new partition (or the first, if you decided to make more than one) to be bootable
    1. fdisk: a (for bootable); enter; 1 (for primary partition 1); enter
    2. cfdisk: Select the bootable command from the bottom using the left/right arrow keys. Hit enter when it's selected.
  5. Write the changes to the partition table and quit
    1. fdisk: w
    2. cfdisk: Use the left/right arrow keys to select the write command from the bottom. Hit enter when it's selected. Type 'yes' to verify your intent, acknowledging that your previous data will be "gone". Then select the quit command.

Installing Slackware

As soon as your partitioning has finished, go ahead and run setup to begin the actual installation program.

The first screen of the installation program

Since we don't have a swap partition, can jump straight to the TARGET option. Use the arrow keys to highlight this option and hit enter. Select /dev/sda1 from the list, and format it with ext2. On the EeePC, most people prefer this format since it is a non-journaling filesystem. That means fewer writes to the SSD, which supposedly translates to a longer lifetime.

After the SSD is formatted, you will be asked to select the installation source. Again, I'm assuming that you want to use your fresh Slackware 12.2 disc, but you are free to choose what you want if you know what you're doing.

Selecting the installation source

I went with the default "Install from a Slackware CD or DVD" and told it to auto scan for my disc drive. It was found at /dev/sr0.

Choosing Your Packages

Next, you are given the opportunity to tweak the package series which will be installed on your EeePC. I chose the following series: A, AP, K, L, N, TCL, X, and XAP. I planned on using XFCE instead of KDE on my EeePC simply because it is much more light-weight and still capable of what I need. If you want KDE, be sure to check the appropriate series.

Selecting the packages to install

Once you mark each of the package series you wish to install, hit the "OK" button. You'll then have to choose which prompting mode to use. I chose menu, simply to be a little more picky about which packages I wanted installed. Installation took approximately 28 minutes with my package selection and setup.

Configuring Your System

When all of the packages are done being installed, you will be presented with some other screens to finish up the installation process.

  1. Choose whether or not you want to make a bootable USB... I skipped it.
  2. Choose how you wish to install LILO. I chose simple.
  3. Choose your frame buffer mode for the console. I chose 640x480x256.
  4. Specify any optional kernel parameters. Ensure that the hdc=noprobe from earlier is here to speed up your system considerably.
  5. Specify whether you wish to use UTF-8 on the console. I chose no.
  6. Specify where to install LILO. I chose MBR.
  7. Specify your mouse type. I chose imps2.
  8. Specify whether or not you wish to have gpm run at boot, which allows you to use your mouse in the console. I chose yes.
  9. Configure your network.
  10. Give your EeePC a hostname. This can be whatever you'd like.
  11. Specify the domain for your network. This can be whatever you'd like as well.
  12. Configure your IP address information. I just chose DHCP.
  13. Set the DHCP hostname. I left this blank.
  14. Review and confirm your network settings.
  15. Choose which services you wish to have running immediately after booting.
  16. See if you want to try custom screen fonts. I usually don't bother.
  17. Specify whether your hardware clock is set to local time or UTC.
  18. Choose your timezone.
  19. Select your preferred window manager. I chose XFCE.
  20. Set the root password.

At this point Slackware has been installed on your EeePC and you can exit the setup menu and hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete to reboot your computer.

First Boot

You should now go back into your BIOS and set "OS Installation" back to "Finished", exit and save changes, and reboot again.

Slackware's default LILO boot screen

You should then see the Slackware boot screen. By default, it has a 2-minute timeout, which seems absolutely absurd to me, so we'll change that later. Just hit enter for now and watch your new Slackware boot. The first boot will usually take a bit longer than subsequent reboots because all sorts of things need to generate their first configuration file.

When your system is ready, you'll be presented with a login prompt. Just login as root, using the password you specified in the last step of the installation process.

Tweaking Your Slackware

Here are some of the first things I do when I install a new copy of Slackware:

Add An Unprivileged User

This step is very important, because one thing that sets Linux apart from other operating systems is security ;). If you run your Linux system as root all the time, you're begging for problems.

To create a new unprivileged user, I use the adduser command. It walks you through the process of creating a user. This is the user you should use to do your day-to-day computing. Only use the root user when performing system administration tasks. Trust me :)

Tell X Windows to Start Automatically

I have no problem with the command line interface in Linux. I actually enjoy it quite a bit. However, on a device such as the EeePC, not having a GUI just doesn't seem all that practical. It's also not very impressive to your potential converts when they look over your shoulder and see that your tiny gadget just displays a black and white screen when you turn it on...

So, to help ourselves be a little more productive and to impress our followers, let's tell X Windows to start up automatically when we turn on the computer. To do that, we want to edit /etc/inittab and change the following line:


to be:


You can use whatever program you feel comfortable with, such as vi or nano. The next time you reboot your computer, you should see a GUI as soon as all of the services are fully loaded.

Along with this step, I suppose we can mention the configuration of X Windows. I usually run xorgsetup as root to get things up and running. Usually there is also a bit of tweaking to get things like the scroll wheel on the mouse to function. This part in particular took quite some time for me to figure out.

Enable The Scroll Wheel on the Trackpad

Some of you might be able to live without being able to scroll a page or whatever without using the scroll feature on most mouse devices these days, but I'm not one of them. Here is my entire /etc/X11/xorg.conf file:

Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier     " Configured"
    Screen      0  "Screen0" 0 0
    InputDevice    "Mouse0" "CorePointer"
    InputDevice    "SynapticMouse" "AlwaysCore"
    InputDevice    "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"

Section "Files"
    RgbPath      "/usr/share/X11/rgb"
    ModulePath   "/usr/lib/xorg/modules"
    FontPath     "/usr/share/fonts/TTF"
    FontPath     "/usr/share/fonts/OTF"
    FontPath     "/usr/share/fonts/Type1"
    FontPath     "/usr/share/fonts/misc"
    FontPath     "/usr/share/fonts/75dpi/:unscaled"

Section "Module"
    Load  "xtrap"
    Load  "GLcore"
    Load  "record"
    Load  "dri"
    Load  "dbe"
    Load  "extmod"
    Load  "glx"
    Load  "freetype"
    Load  "type1"
    Load  "synaptics"

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier  "Keyboard0"
    Driver      "kbd"
    Option       "XkbModel"  "pc104"
    Option       "XkbLayout"  "us"

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier  "Mouse0"
    Driver "mouse"
    Option "Device" "/dev/input/mice"
    Option "Protocol" "IMPS/2"
    Option "Buttons" "5"
    Option "zAxisMapping" "4 5"
    Option "SHMConfig" "on"

Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier "SynapticMouse"
    Driver "synaptics"
    Option "Device" "/dev/input/mice"
    Option "Protocol" "auto-dev"
    Option "SHMConfig" "on"

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier   "Monitor0"
    VendorName   "Monitor Vendor"
    ModelName    "Monitor Model"

Section "Device"
        ### Available Driver options are:-
        ### Values: <i>: integer, <f>: float, <bool>: "True"/"False",
        ### <string>: "String", <freq>: "<f> Hz/kHz/MHz"
        ### [arg]: arg optional
        #Option     "NoAccel"               # [<bool>]
        #Option     "SWcursor"              # [<bool>]
        #Option     "ColorKey"              # <i>
        #Option     "CacheLines"            # <i>
        #Option     "Dac6Bit"               # [<bool>]
        #Option     "DRI"                   # [<bool>]
        #Option     "NoDDC"                 # [<bool>]
        #Option     "ShowCache"             # [<bool>]
        #Option     "XvMCSurfaces"          # <i>
        #Option     "PageFlip"              # [<bool>]
    Identifier  "Card0"
    Driver      "intel"
    VendorName  "Intel Corporation"
    BoardName   "Mobile 915GM/GMS/910GML Express Graphics Controller"
    BusID       "PCI:0:2:0"

Section "Screen"
    Identifier "Screen0"
    Device     "Card0"
    Monitor    "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth 24
    SubSection "Display"
        Viewport   0 0
        Depth     1
    SubSection "Display"
        Viewport   0 0
        Depth     4
    SubSection "Display"
        Viewport   0 0
        Depth     8
    SubSection "Display"
        Viewport   0 0
        Depth     15
    SubSection "Display"
        Viewport   0 0
        Depth     16
    SubSection "Display"
        Viewport   0 0
        Depth     24

A lot of that stuff might not be necessary, but it's what works for me. Normally the process for enabling the scroll wheel is pretty easy, but something seems to have changed in this respect with the release of Slackware 12.2. I had to edit the /etc/modprobe.d/psmouse script to make this line:

options psmouse proto=imps

look like:

options psmouse proto=any

After making that change, things seemed to work a lot better.

Make LILO to Boot Faster

There are a couple tricks we can use to make LILO boot our EeePC slightly faster. The first is to add the compact option somewhere, and the second is to decrease the menu timeout.

Open up /etc/lilo.conf with a text editor of your choosing as root. Add a single line with the word compact somewhere. I put it under the line that says boot = /dev/sda so the top of lilo.conf looks like this:

# LILO configuration file
# generated by 'liloconfig'
# Start LILO global section
# Append any additional kernel parameters:
append="hdc=noprobe vt.default_utf8=8"
boot = /dev/sda

I also changed the line that said timeout = 1200 to be timeout = 50 to make LILO only hang around for 5 seconds instead of 2 minutes.

After making these changes, we must reinstall LILO to the MBR with the new settings:

lilo -v

Here's my /etc/lilo.conf with most of the commented lines removed:

# LILO configuration file
# generated by 'liloconfig'
# Start LILO global section
# Append any additional kernel parameters:
append="hdc=noprobe vt.default_utf8=0"
boot = /dev/sda

# Boot BMP Image.
# Bitmap in BMP format: 640x480x8
bitmap = /boot/slack.bmp
bmp-colors = 255,0,255,0,255,0
bmp-table = 60,6,1,16
bmp-timer = 65,27,0,255

timeout = 50
vga = normal
# End LILO global section
# Linux bootable partition config begins
image = /boot/vmlinuz
root = /dev/sda1
label = Linux
# Linux bootable partition config ends

Network Tweaking

While the wireless adapter seemed to work great for me out of the box this time, the ethernet adapter is still not functional. I compiled and installed the atl2 driver to solve the problem. You can get it from Here are the steps I took to install it:

tar jxf atl2-2.0.4.tar.bz2
cd atl2-2.0.4
cp atl2.ko /lib/modules/`uname -r`/kernel/drivers/net/
depmod -a
modprobe atl2

The next tweak I added for networking was to boost boot times... The DHCP address request hangs the entire boot process out of the box if you don't have an ethernet cable plugged in while booting. To remedy this problem, add the following line to the first section of your /etc/rc.d/rc.inet1.conf:


This will tell your computer to continue booting if an IP address hasn't been assigned after 5 seconds of waiting.

Enable Frequency Scaling

We all like out battery to last a long time, right? Well, the EeePC 701 doesn't have the greatest battery in the world, but we can help increase the battery life by enabling the CPU frequency modules. I put this stuff in my /etc/rc.d/rc.local script:

# /etc/rc.d/rc.local:  Local system initialization script.
# Put any local startup commands in here.  Also, if you have
# anything that needs to be run at shutdown time you can
# make an /etc/rc.d/rc.local_shutdown script and put those
# commands in there.

modprobe p4-clockmod
modprobe cpufreq_ondemand
modprobe cpufreq_conservative
modprobe cpufreq_powersave
modprobe cpufreq_performance

cpufreq-set -g ondemand -d 450Mhz -u 900Mhz

Add Your SD Card to /etc/fstab

I have an SD card that I leave in my EeePC all the time, and it's formatted with ext2 just like the internal SSD. Without this tweak, I have to mount the SD card each time I turn on the computer, which gets bothersome. My fix is to add the SD card to /etc/fstab, which takes care of mounting the device at boot.

First, you should make a directory that will be used to mount the device. I made one as such:

mkdir /mnt/sd

Now you need to determine your SD card's UUID. I started out by unmounting my SD card and taking it out of the slot. Then I executed this command:

ls /dev/disk/by-uuid

Next, I popped the SD card back in and executed that command again. The UUID that appears the second time but not the first time is your SD card's UUID.

It's time to add the magic line to your /etc/fstab. Add a line such as:

UUID=[your SD card's UUID] /mnt/sd ext2 defaults,noatime 1 1

somewhere in the file. While we're digging around in /etc/fstab, we might as well add the noatime option to the internal SSD to help reduce disk writes. Save the file and exit the editor. Then mount everything (using mount -a) or just the SD card (using mount /mnt/sd).

For posterity's sake, here's my entire /etc/fstab file:

/dev/sda1        /                ext2        defaults,noatime         1   1
UUID=30293ff4-5bee-457a-8528-ec296f099e9a /mnt/sd ext2 defaults,noatime 1 1
#/dev/cdrom      /mnt/cdrom       auto        noauto,owner,ro  0   0
/dev/fd0         /mnt/floppy      auto        noauto,owner     0   0
devpts           /dev/pts         devpts      gid=5,mode=620   0   0
proc             /proc            proc        defaults         0   0
tmpfs            /dev/shm         tmpfs       defaults         0   0

Preventing Shutdown Hangs

Sometimes the sound card seems to make Slackware hang when you're shutting down. Everything seems to turn off fine, but the little green power LED still shines bright. The solution to this problem appears to be adding the following line:

modprobe -r snd_hda_intel

to /etc/rc.d/rc.6 right before the "Unmounting local file systems." line (around line 195).

Enable Volume Hotkeys and Sleeping

Slackware 12.2 is already listening for ACPI events by default, so we just need to insert our custom stuff into /etc/acpi/


set $@

#logger "ACPI Event $1, $2, $3, $4, $5"

case "$1" in
        case "$2" in
            power) /sbin/init 0;;
            sleep) /etc/acpi/actions/;;
                if grep -q closed /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state
            *) logger "ACPI action $2 is not defined";;
        case "$3" in
            # Fn+F2 Wireless/Bluetooth button
            # Fn+F7 Mute button
            00000013) amixer set Master toggle;;
            # Fn+F8 Volume down
            00000014) amixer set Master 10%-;;
            # Fn+F9 Volume up
            00000015) amixer set Master 10%+;;
    *) logger "ACPI group $1 / action $2 is not defined";;

And to handle the closing of the lid or pressing the sleep button, we need to create a new script in /etc/acpi/actions/ called

# script by Fluxx from linuxquestions slackware forum
# discover video card's ID
ID=`/sbin/lspci | grep VGA | awk '{ print $1 }' | sed -e 's@:@/@'`

# securely create a temporary file
TMP_FILE=`mktemp /tmp/video_state.XXXXXX`
trap 'rm -f $TMP_FILE' 0 1 15

# switch to virtual terminal 1 to avoid graphics
# corruption in X
chvt 1

/sbin/hwclock --systohc

# remove the webcam module
rmmod uvcvideo

# write all unwritten data (just in case)

# dump current data from the video card to the
# temporary file
cat /proc/bus/pci/$ID > $TMP_FILE

# suspend-to-ram
# (samwise) not using this it stuffs up the screen brightness
echo -n mem > /sys/power/state

# suspend-to-disk
#echo -n disk > /sys/power/state

# standby
#echo -n standby > /sys/power/state

# force on for now...
xset dpms force on

/sbin/hwclock --hctosys

# restore the webcam module
modprobe uvcvideo

# restore video card data from the temporary file
# on resume
cat $TMP_FILE > /proc/bus/pci/$ID

# switch back to virtual terminal 2 (running X)
chvt 6; sleep 2
chvt 2

# remove temporary file
rm -f $TMP_FILE

And we need to make sure the script is executable:

chmod +x /etc/acpi/actions/

These scripts should enable us to use the mute key, the increase/decrease volume keys, and the sleep key. They should also allow us to close the lid of the EeePC to put it to sleep. Occasionally, when you wake up the computer, you will just see a blank black screen. To get around this, switch back to VT2 by using the keystroke Ctrl+Alt+F2.

Install Special Packages

Slackware comes with a lot of awesome stuff right out of the box, but it is missing some very important utilities at the same time. Included in this list, for me, is a program called wicd, or a network connectivity manager. This is similar to the "Network Manager" utility found in other mainstream distributions like Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSuSE. Slackware has yet to include such a utility by default.

Anyway, wicd can be found in the extra directory on the Slackware DVD or the 3rd (?) CD. To install it, find the package on the disc (or download it from the Internet) and execute the following command:

installpkg wicd-1.5.6-noarch-2.tgz

Be sure to check out the extra directory on the Slackware install disc. There are some neat tools in there. Some excellent resources for Slackware packages include:

There are some utilities out there to help you in your quest to resolve package dependencies. Two of the major ones that I've used in the past are swaret and slapt-get.

Using Slackware 12.2

My Slackware 12.2-powered EeePC 701 4G

I have to give the Linux kernel hackers props--the kernel is amazingly fast! I'm sure the fact that I'm running a fairly stock Slackware installation (as opposed to something like Ubuntu) helps the speed quite a bit too. This past semester I had Linux Mint 5 (XFCE edition) installed on my EeePC, and that seemed fairly responsive. Slackware blew me away though, and I can still do everything I want to do!

The webcam and sound card work out of the box, just like the wireless. I rarely use the webcam, but it's fun to play with, and my mom appreciates seeing me on Skype occasionally. The wireless connection quality exceeds what it was with the madwifi driver I was using with Slackware 12.1 and other distros like Linux Mint. Programs are ultra speedy and responsive, even with the processor clocked at 450Mhz. I love it!!!

Boot times could be better, but I'm not too concerned with it. My setup takes approximately 50 seconds from boot to a useable desktop interface. Not horrible by any means, but perhaps not the best for a netbook when all you want to do is check your e-mail.

I would like to see the Network Manager that so many other distributions offer in Slackware some day. The wicd application is nice, but it's not nearly as intuitive as Network Manager, and it seems to be relatively limited in its capabilities in comparison. I know I'm not alone in my desire to see Network Manager included, or at least available, for Slackware. It would be tremendously beneficial in a world where wireless networking and laptops are more and more pervasive. Using the command line to adjust your wireless connection settings each time you have to hop to a new access point is just annoying.

In the end, I'm excited to have Slackware on my EeePC once again. I think it will be around for quite a while this time.

Please comment with any advice or problems that you have in regards to installing Slackware 12.2 on an EeePC.

Announcing django-axes 0.1.1-rc1

I've released a new version of django-axes this morning. This project allows you to keep track of failed login attempts on your Django-powered sites quickly and easily. It pays attention to the built-in login functions for the Django administration utility as well as the stock django.contrib.auth.views.login method. If a particular user fails to login successfully after 3 tries (this number is customizable), a record is made of the failure for the site admins to review.

This new version addresses what appeared to be related to some recursive function calls interpretting one failed login attempt as much more than that (sometimes more than 100 alleged failed login attempts for a single actual failed login attempt!). I also added a log file for easier access to the stuff that happens when django-axes kicks into action.

For more information, see the following links:

Please comment with any questions, suggestions, etc you have in regards to django-axes!

Slackware 12.1 on an Asus EeePC 701


This article has a follow-up for Slackware 12.2.

The following are the steps I took to install Slackware 12.1 on my EeePC this past weekend. I hope you find them complete and helpful!

Installing Slackware 12.1 on an Asus EeePC 701

  1. Burn DVD .iso to disc
  2. Turn on EeePC
  3. Hit F2 to run setup
  4. Go to the Advanced tab, and set "OS Installation" to "Start"
  5. Go to the Boot tab, and ensure that the external DVD drive will be used for booting before the internal SSD
  6. Exit and save changes
  7. Just hit enter after rebooting from BIOS configuration when the Slackware boot screen shows up
  8. Unless you want to use a different keymap for whatever reason, hit enter when asked to select a keyboard map
  9. Login as root
  10. Run fdisk or cfdisk on /dev/hdc
  11. Remove all partitions (unless you know what you're doing)
    1. fdisk: d to delete (you may have to select multiple partitions to delete if you have more than one for some reason)
    2. cfdisk: Select all partitions individually with up/down arrow keys and use the left/right arrow keys to select delete from the menu at the bottom. Hit enter to run the delete command when it's highlighted.
  12. Create one partition that takes the whole SSD (again, unless you know what you're doing)
    1. fdisk: n (for new); enter; p (for primary); enter; 1 (for the first primary partition); enter; enter (to start at the beginning of the drive); enter (to select the end of the drive)
    2. cfdisk: Select the new command with the left/right arrow keys and hit enter when it's selected. Make it a primary parition, and have it take the whole SSD (3997.49MB in my case).
  13. Set the type of the new partition to be Linux
    1. fdisk: t (for type); enter; 83 (for Linux); enter
    2. cfdisk: Use the left/right arrow keys to select the type command at the bottom and hit enter when it's selected. Choose 83.
  14. Set the new partition (or the first, if you decided to make more than one) to be bootable
    1. fdisk: a (for bootable); enter; 1 (for primary partition 1); enter
    2. cfdisk: Select the bootable command from the bottom using the left/right arrow keys. Hit enter when it's selected.
  15. Write the changes to the partition table and quit
    1. fdisk: w
    2. cfdisk: Use the left/right arrow keys to select the write command from the bottom. Hit enter when it's selected. Type 'yes' to verify your intent, acknowledging that your previous data will be "gone". Then select the quit command.
  16. Run setup
  17. Select TARGET to specify where you will be installing
  18. Select /dev/hdc1
  19. Format the partition
  20. To reduce write cycles, many people suggest formatting with ext2, which is a non-journaling filesystem. However, many people claim that the limited number write cycles of SSD is not something to worry about. Use your best judgement on this one. Hit OK after the format is complete.
  21. Select where you plan to install Slackware from. In my case, it's the DVD. I usually tell it to find the media automatically. Select manual if you know which device your DVD drive is. Mine was /dev/sr0.
  22. Select the packages you wish to install. This is where your installation will likely differ greatly from mine because of personal preferences. I do a lot of development, so I will keep a lot of things for that. Here's what I selected to install:
    1. Base Linux System
    2. Various Applications that do not need X
    3. Program Development (C, C++, Lisp, Perl, etc.)
    4. Linux kernel source
    5. Qt and the K Desktop Environment for X
    6. System Libraries (needed by KDE, GNOME, X, and more)
    7. Networking (TCP/IP, UUCP, Mail, News)
    8. Tcl/Tk script languages
    9. X Window System
    10. X Applications
    11. Games
  23. Choose whether or not you want to be picky about your software. To save a little extra disk space, I'm going to manually choose what I don't want. This includes:
    1. A: cpio, cryptsetup, cups, floppy, genpower, jfsutils, mdadm, mt-st, mtx, quota, reiserfsprogs, rpm2tgz, tcsh, xfsprogs
    2. AP: amp, cdparanoia, hplip, gutenprint, jed, joe, jove, ksh93, mysql, rpm, xfsdump, zsh
    3. D: gcc-gfortran, gcc-gnat, gcc-java, mercurial, p2c
    4. N: elm, epic4, httpd, mailx, mutt, netatalk, pine, popa3d, proftpd, rp-pppoe, samba, slrn, tin, trn, vsftpd
    5. TCL: hfsutils
    6. X: anthy, bdftopcf, beforelight, libhangul, sazanami-fonts-ttf, sinhala_lklug-font-ttf, tibmachuni-font-ttf, wqy-zenhei-font-ttf
    7. XAP: audacious, audacious-plugins, gftp, mozilla-thunderbird, pan, seamonkey
  24. Wait for the installation to complete. It took almost a full hour with my package selection, leaving me with 485.4MB free on my 4GB SSD.
  25. Choose whether or not you want to make a bootable USB... I skipped it.
  26. Choose how you wish to install LILO. I chose simple.
  27. Choose your frame buffer mode for the console. I chose 640x480x256.
  28. Specify any optional kernal parameters. I left this blank, originally, but later learned that having 'hdc=noprobe' increased my disk access speed by about 13 times.
  29. Specify whether you wish to use UTF-8 on the console. I chose no.
  30. Specify where to install LILO. I chose MBR.
  31. Specify your mouse type. I chose imps2.
  32. Specify whether or not you wish to have gpm run at boot, which allows you to use your mouse in the console. I chose yes.
  33. Configure your network.
  34. Give your eeepc a hostname. This can be whatever you'd like.
  35. Specify the domain for your network. This can be whatever you'd like as well.
  36. Configure your IP address information. I just chose DHCP.
  37. Set the DHCP hostname. I left this blank.
  38. Review and confirm your network settings.
  39. Choose which services you wish to have running immediately after booting.
  40. See if you want to try custom screen fonts. I usually don't bother.
  41. Specify whether your hardware clock is set to local time or UTC.
  42. Choose your timezone.
  43. Select your preferred window manager. I chose KDE.
  44. Set the root password.
  45. Slackware has been installed! Exit the setup program and reboot.
  46. Hit F2 to enter the BIOS again.
  47. Set OS Installation to "Finished" and exit the BIOS, saving changes.
  48. Reboot into Slackware! The first boot takes a while because of all the initial setup. It is faster on subsequent reboots, assuming you don't add new services (like apache and mysql) at boot.

Change a few settings around.

  1. vi /etc/inittab
  2. (set default runlevel to 4)
  3. vi /etc/lilo.conf
  4. add 'compact' somewhere to make it boot faster
  5. change the boot delay so it's not 120 seconds

Now for installing various drivers.

  1. Install the ethernet driver:
    1. wget
    2. tar jxf atl2-2.0.4.tar.bz2
    3. cd atl2-2.0.4
    4. make
    5. cp atl2.ko /lib/modules/
    6. depmod -a
    7. modprobe atl2
    8. ifconfig
  2. Install the drivers for the wireless:
    1. wget
    2. tar zxvf madwifi-nr-r3366+ar5007.tar.gz
    3. cd madwifi-nr-r3366+ar5007.tar.gz
    4. scripts/madwifi-unload
    5. scripts/ uname -r
    6. make && make install
    7. modprobe ath_pci

I kind of stopped taking notes after I realized how much fun it was to have Slackware on my EeePC. If you have questions, just add a comment below.