kteatime - Small tray utility which reminds you of steeping tea

May 11th, 2008 by Patrick Murena

Article submitted by Stephan Windmüller. Guess what? We still need you to submit good articles about software you like!

For some people coffee seems to be the only liquid they drink in front of their workstation. But for those who enjoy a cup of tea once in a while, kteatime may be a neat little helper.

I expect every one of them knows this situation: The water just boiled, you put some green tea in your cup, add the water and return to your work. 15 minutes later you realize that you forgot your tea and only dozens of sugar cubes will rescue it. ;)

kteatime helps you to prevent this situation in form of a little timer in the tray.

kteatime configuration window

After selecting the appropriate kind of tea and starting the timer it will display a little circle which turns from red to green. The tooltip informs you how long your tea will need.

When your tea is ready, kteatime informs you with a beep and a little pop-up. You can also specify a command which should be run.

tea ready pop-up

For me kteatime is the only reason besides k3b to keep the KDE libraries installed. Even as a KDE application it just works fine under XFCE.

kteatime is available since Debian Sarge (perhaps even longer) and also part of every version of Ubuntu.

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cu: Simple serial communication program

May 4th, 2008 by Tincho

Article submitted by Floris Bruynooghe. Guess what? We still need you to submit good articles about software you like!

If you have servers, embedded systems or high end routers (or old PC’s doing those jobs) chances are that they will have a console on a serial port instead of being equipped with a display and keyboard. Even when normally you use ssh(1) or similar to log in to those machines, in debugging and rescue sessions you often want to see console messages, pull down the network interface or maybe play with the boot loader (like launching alternate kernels from within grub). You then need a null modem cable (often supplied by vendors when they use RJ45 plugs for the serial console instead of RS232) to connect the serial port of your computer to the serial console of the device.

Now you also need a program, often called a “serial communications” program, that can connect to your serial port and allow you to use your terminal as the console of the attached device. Most serial communication programs however where actually made in an era when most networking happened by using a modem —attached to the serial port— to dial up other systems. As a result of this they tend to have very heavy and bloated interfaces, giving you all sort of modem-specific functionality via a complicated interactive interface. This is where cu comes in! It is a very simple version of it: a simple command line program doing the bare minimum needed.

In it’s simplest scenario, described above, invocation is trivial:

$ cu -l /dev/ttyS0

For example this is how I connect to my home router (normally I’d use apt-get over ssh though):

flub@laurie:~$ cu -l /dev/ttyS1

Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 balder ttyS0

balder login: root
Last login: Sun Apr 13 19:58:46 2008 on ttyS0
balder:~# apt-get update
balder:~# apt-get upgrade
balder:~# logout

Debian GNU/Linux 4.0 balder ttyS0

balder login: ~.

As you can see here I used the seconds serial port (ttyS1) of my local machine (laurie) to connect to the first serial port (ttyS0) of the router (balder), which is configured to run a getty on it. This allows me to log in and do any task I want just like from any other terminal. Disconnecting is done just as in ssh by default: by typing `~.‘ just after you have typed a newline.

The above will connect you to the serial line configured as 9600, 8n1 (9600 baud rate, 8 data bits, no parity, 1 stop bit). This is most likely the default setting on the device. However as this is sometimes a little slow you might want to configure your server (or whatever the device is) to use a faster baud rate, or maybe your vendor did that already and told you in their documentation what speed to use. The speed is easily changed by another command line switch:

$ cu -l /dev/ttyS0 -s 150000

If you need to change the parity this can be achieved by using -e for even and -o for odd parity. The stop bits and data bits can’t be changed by command line switches unfortunately, but needing them seems very rare.

cu does have a fair few more options and some more commands starting with the `~‘ escape character. Most of these have to do with using modems to dial other systems however and are not applicable for null modem use. The manual page, cu(1), gives a detailed description of more advanced features.

(1) If you’re unlucky enough to not have a serial port anymore, like many modern laptops, a USB-dongle with a serial port is usually assigned to /dev/ttyUSB0.

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Posted in Debian, Ubuntu | 10 Comments »


May 3rd, 2008 by Tincho

Hi again,

A few weeks ago, I wrote a call for help as we were lacking material for keeping the site alive. I’m very happy to say that it was a success! We received many great articles that we’re currently drafting for publication (you have already seen some), and lots of support. You people rock!

We will be keeping the weekly schedule for now, just to be on the safe side. If the contributions keep flowing, we might be able to do twice a week posts again.

So thanks to all of you: silent readers, commenters and writers. You’re great and you are the reason and life of this site!

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Posted in Debian, Ubuntu | 3 Comments »

Sonata: an elegant music client for MPD

April 27th, 2008 by Tincho

Article submitted by Fatih Altınok. Guess what? We still need you to submit good articles about software you like!

Sonata is a GTK+ music player, written in Python. Actually, it is an MPD client, which is it’s most important advantage. MPD is a daemon that plays your music at background (maybe on a different computer). It can use different front ends, you can use it even from command-line and it continues playing even if your client or X is crashes. Sonata takes advantage of MPD and serves it in a clean and user-friendly interface.

Sonata - Mini

Sonata offers a clean interface to your music. You can choose a collapsed or expanded view. You can browse around tabs to reach your queue, play lists, library, song info or streams. The interface is customizable; you can remove unwanted tabs, playback buttons, progress bar, status bar and album cover. You can hide the main window by clicking the tray icon or by entering sonata -t into the command line —which you can bind to a keyboard shortcut to make it easier. And you can see the song changes from the notification pop-ups.

Sonata - Playlist Sonata - Library Sonata - Info Sonata - Options

Sonata has lots of features you’d want from it. It can fetch song lyrics from and saves them to the ~/.lyrics folder. It can “scrobble” your songs to (you can use a daemon for that too, but it’s your choice.) You can view and search your music database from the library tab. You can edit your ID3 tags, one by one or batch. It can show album covers —both local or remote, depends on your decision—. If you click on the cover art; you’ll go to the song info where you can enlarge the image, see the lyrics and other song-related information. It also has support for listening to on-line streams.

You may think these features are just ordinary for an advanced music player, but there’s one more thing. Sonata’s interface is simple and user-friendly. Forget about the music players which you can’t use unless it’s full-screen. Sonata doesn’t cover more place than a sidebar. Think about music players with lots of features that makes it complicated. Sonata has what’s necessary. It makes listening to music enjoyable, not confusing.

You can install Sonata if you’re using Debian testing or unstable; or Ubuntu on all repositories. Sonata is currently being developed and pretty stable. Ready to make you enjoy your music!

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Posted in Debian, Ubuntu | 4 Comments »

Sitebar: centralized bookmarking

April 20th, 2008 by Tincho

Article submitted by Arve Seljebu. Guess what? We still need you to submit good articles about software you like!

Like many people nowadays, I use many different computers. You use your computer at work, home, school and in public places. Maybe you also got several computers at home? One thing that easy comes to annoyance is bookmarking. With different bookmarks on every computer, I’ve long searched for a good way to sync my bookmarks between browsers and operating systems. Maybe you’ve used Google bookmarks, or similar social bookmarking. I’ve been using Google bookmarks, and my problem arrived when I wanted a good way to view my bookmarks in the Opera web browser. The solution was to add a speed dial to, which to me wasn’t very appealing to me.

Sitebar is an easy way store your bookmarks in one place. It has support for many browsers and platforms. It comes both as a service, or self installed software. The latter is my preference. The great news is that sitebar comes as a package in Debian. All you need is apache, mysql and php. Installing is as easy as apt-get install sitebar, set up a mysql database through the install wizard and then browse over to http://yourserver/sitebar/ and set up your preferences.

To get started, sitebar includes ways to import and export your bookmarks in many formats. It’s as simple as right clicking inside the bookmark area and choose Import Bookmarks. Sitebar can import the following input formats: Atom, OPML Link Type, OPML RSS Type, Opera Hotlist, Netscape Bookmark File, RDF/RSS, and XBEL. You can also select Auto, which is the easiest way.

The use of Sitebar may vary some between different browsers. For example, in Firefox several add-ons are available, and in Opera the side panel is used. That’s why the sitebar-menu will show up when right clicking the bookmarks under Firefox, but in Opera you will need to use CTRL left-click to get the same menu. As for use in Opera, I prefer getting Opera’s menu when right-clicking, which means you can open bookmarks in new tabs and such.

Adding bookmarks is simple too. You can make yourself a short cut to adding bookmarks in your browser. You could also right-click/CTRL-left-click where you want your new bookmark and then choose “Add Link”. And here comes the beauty, under “Add Link” you’ve got a button called “Retrieve Link Information” which gets title, description and icon from the web page you are adding.

After a link is added, you can email, copy, delete or edit it. There is also security features that lets you choose rights for trees and folders. User management and groups are available too. All of these functions are easy understandable.


Full screen shot of Sitebar in Firefox/Iceweasel
Sitebar in Firefox/Iceweasel
Sitebar menu
Sitebar menu
Importing bookmarks
Importing bookmarks
Adding a bookmark
Adding a bookmark
Creating a folder
Creating a folder



  • Easy installed
  • Integrated into many browsers
  • Your own private bookmarks, no need for signing up some service
  • No need to synchronize between browsers


  • Use vary between browsers

Sitebar has been available in Debian since at least Sarge, and in Ubuntu since Dapper.

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