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Create an encrypted partition/usb disk December 2, 2009

Posted by claudio in Uncategorized.
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Update 2010/04/30: Addition for the new KB drives.
Update 2012/03/18: up to date with Ubuntu 11.10.

If you are like me and use a laptop as your main computer, you will run out of space very soon. USB disks are a great alternative to store your photography or music collection or, simply, files you don’t use everyday. I always keep backups off-site (a USB disk) and I want to have those encrypted. This is what I did (open a shell):

  1. Install the cryptography software:
    sudo apt-get install cryptsetup
  2. Write some random data to your disk (we will assume it’s called /dev/sdx, type “dmesg” after inserting the disk to figure out the device, or if it’s windows formatted and automounted have a look at the output of “mount”):
    sudo dd if=/dev/random of=/dev/sdx bs=4K
    This will taken a long time, at least a few days (create some IO). A good -shorter- compromise (a day) will be:
    sudo badblocks -c 10240 -s -w -t random -v /dev/sdx
  3. Create a new Linux partition table with cfdisk (create new partition table if asked, chose New and assign all the disk, use a primary partition).
    sudo cfdisk /dev/sdx
  4. Setup a partition using fdsik (compatible with the new 4KB block size drives):
    sudo fdisk -uc /dev/sdxCommand (m for help): d
    Selected partition 1Command (m for help): n
    Command action
    e   extended
    p   primary partition (1-4)
    Partition number (1-4): 1
    First sector (2048-2930277167, default 2048):
    Using default value 2048
    Last sector, +sectors or +size{K,M,G} (2048-2930277167, default 2930277167):
    Using default value 2930277167

    Command (m for help): t
    Selected partition 1
    Hex code (type L to list codes): 83

    Command (m for help): p

    Disk /dev/sdx: 1500.3 GB, 1500301910016 bytes
    81 heads, 63 sectors/track, 574226 cylinders, total 2930277168 sectors
    Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
    Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
    I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
    Disk identifier: 0x4fabbfc4

    Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
    /dev/sdx1            2048  2930277167  1465137560   83  Linux

    Command (m for help): w
    The partition table has been altered!

    Calling ioctl() to re-read partition table.
    Syncing disks.

  5. Create the encrypted partition. Make the paraphase long and difficult to guess:
    sudo cryptsetup --verbose --verify-passphrase luksFormat /dev/sdx1 -c aes-cbc-essiv:sha256
  6. Create a filesystem (I am using ext4, the chose device and label name is “disk5″, change it to your taste):
    sudo cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sdx1 disk5
    sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/mapper/disk5 -L disk5
    sudo cryptsetup luksClose disk5
  7. Mount it going to “Computer” in Nautilus, double clicking the disk and inserting your paraphrase. I chose not let Gnome store the encrypting paraphrase for automounting as it would make encryption as weak as your system password (and we know how to retrieve/change those)…

That’s it!

Fix for slow virtual desktop switching with Nvidia 96.* and Ubuntu 9.04 August 14, 2009

Posted by claudio in Uncategorized.
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nvidiaI have a dual-cpu Sun W2100z workstation I really like. It’s getting rather old, but it’s pretty fast for things like programming and Internet use. Until the release of Ubuntu 9.04, the machne was running fine. After installing the new release it was pretty obvious that the X performance was terrible. Things like glxgears ran fine on this dual screen setup, but things like switching virtual desktops (I use the shortcut ctrl+alt+arrows a lot) took a few seconds when windows were maximized. Sadly, the free driver didn’t work with the 3300 x 1050 resolution I use.

After playing around with the millions switch and config options of the nvidia driver, I found a working setting:

nvidia-settings -a InitialPixmapPlacement=2

To enable this permanently, you can add it to System – Preferences – Startup Applications:


(put “nvidia-settings -a InitialPixmapPlacement=2″ (without “”) in the command field).

Avahi/Zeroconf and the local domain: fix your router… November 11, 2008

Posted by claudio in Uncategorized.
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wrt54glI have a nice new Linksys WRT54GL router. A hackable router, nevertheless with the linksys firmware for now.

I noticed that the local domain for internal machines (provided by avahi) did not work any longer. If you don’t know what this is: you can connect to your local machines by their hostname in the local domain (e.g. brugge.local) instead of the ever changing IP. Poor’s man DNS.


Ubuntu 8.04 on an HP Compaq 6710b laptop July 16, 2008

Posted by claudio in Uncategorized.
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EDIT Oct 13 2008: Fix for wireless problem (sometimes difficult to connect to Access Point)

EDIT Feb 10 2010: This HowTo is no longer needed on Ubuntu 9.10. Everything OK out of the box.

HP gave us hplip linux drivers for their printers, so when I needed to buy new computer stuff I bought HP (laptop and color laser network printer). Everything (screen resolution, graphics hardware acceleration, wifi, etc) works out of the box. No surprise really, as all these components are Intel with known open source drivers.

Anyway, there is one little thing you need to do make of this laptop a dream GNU/Linux laptop. (more…)


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