Mt Robson

The classic view of Mt Robson from the visitor centre.

This in indeed the classic tourist photo of Mt Robson, but it’s far from the best angle. (That honour goes to the view from Highway 16 heading south-east.) From here at the visitor centre, the mountain is diminished by the presence of the foreground trees and the surrounding mountains that are not as high, but much closer. However, when the light is right, it’s still a spectacular sight, and we were lucky enough to have another of rare day when the summit was clearly visible.

Upgrading from Ubuntu 12.04 LTS to 16.04 LTS

From a precise pangolin to a xenial xerus

I’ve been putting off upgrading my Linux box for months, but now that official support for Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) has just ended, I figure it’s now or never. In the end I found that I should have done it months ago as it went very smoothly.

My first question was, should I just upgrade to 16.04 LTS, or something newer, or maybe even Linux Mint which has been capturing hearts and minds over the past couple of years? In the end I decided to stick with Ubuntu, and given that the Linux box is really just a backup file store, I thought it would be best to go with a distribution that’s not going to need updating again in the next 6 months. I suspect that this will be the last upgrade for this machine: the motherboard, RAM, CPU, and PSU (and fans) all date from 2008. (Which reminds me, the CPU fan is getting cranky too…)

So off I went and downloaded the relevant .iso from Ubuntu. Hmm – server or desktop version? I had vague notions of using VNC to run a desktop session so I went for desktop, knowing that it would be straightforward to add whatever server packages I’d need later. Download, burn to DVD (yes, it seems I needed a DVD – which had to be done on the Windows machine as the burn attempt failed on Linux), insert and reboot. Oh yes – did I mention that I made sure I had backups of any important data from that hard drive? No? Well, remember to back up your stuff before doing OS upgrades!

I don’t have screenshots so bear with my wordy descriptions.

Installation of 16.04

The machine booted up and presented me with a black screen containing two low-resolution icons at the bottom, one of which looked a bit like a keyboard (I think). I waited. Nothing happened, so I hit the space bar. Ta-da! We have liftoff. I have no idea what it was waiting for. Please use words if I need to do something!! The disc spun up to obnoxious levels and eventually I was presented with my next screen with the choice of trying out Ubuntu, or installing Ubuntu. I clicked “Install”, and on the next screen I checked the box to download updates during the installation, and to add some third-party software that (for licensing reasons) can’t be included by default.

And away it went. It recognized that I had an existing Ubuntu installation on my OS drive and gave me 5 options to choose from. I could let it upgrade 12.04 to 16.04, but I wasn’t sure about doing that: I’ve that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Alternatively I could install 16.04 alongside 12.04 – not much point in doing that. Then there were two options that I felt were somewhat ambiguous. The first said: “Erase 12.04 and reinstall”. Reinstall what? Reinstall 12.04? Why would I do that? The other said: “Erase disk and install Ubuntu”. Presumably that means the version of Ubuntu on this disc (i.e. 16.04) but again, not entirely clear. Fortunately I had an escape route: the fifth option was off on its own and said: “Something else”. 🙂

So I clicked “Something else” and got on with the next step, which was to examine the hard disk partitions. It took me a minute (some of which was spent contemplating an error message) to work out exactly what was required here: I had to select the desired file system and mount point for the relevant partitions. Since I had a separate partition for /home, I made sure to select / for the main one, and /home for the other. In doing so I completely forgot about the other two hard drives in the machine (not an issue, but it would have saved me another post-installation step – see below).

With hard drives sorted, the next steps were setting the timezone (easy: it correctly identified me as being in Vancouver) and keyboard (standard US). Next was giving the computer a name, and I stuck with the previous one (my current home computer naming scheme makes use of lakes in the English Lake District). Then I had to create a username and set a password. Then it was time to restart and I was reminded to remove the DVD from the drive and asked to press enter to continue.

Post installation

A few moments later I logged in with my shiny new user account and began the task of getting things set up to taste. First up was a second user account, which left me a bit puzzled to being with as I had to click on a button that didn’t look clickable in order to bring up the option of actually enabling the account and setting a password.

The first job (actually, this should have been my first job, not the second user account) when installing a new operating system is to apply all available updates. The package manager said I only had 12, so I left it doing its thing and called it a day.

The following morning I picked up with the next round of tasks: installing tcsh (and using that as my preferred shell) as well as Geeqie and Dropbox. Then I wasted a couple of hours trying to get a headless VNC setup to work before I took a moment to think about how often I would actually use that. The answer came back pretty quickly: almost never, so changed my mind and decided to just leave it as a headless server, and start a VNC session if and when I actually needed one.

Headless operation

I’ve been running the Windows and Linux machines with a set of KVM cables for the past few years. Recently, one of the cables has been getting flaky, causing the display to blank from time to time, so I decided that I was going to cut those cords and have the Linux run without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. After all, even with the KVM switch, I still logged in over SSH 99 % of the time. (Speaking of which, I was stumped by the fact that my first attempt to SSH in to the Linux machine failed. That is until I remembered to install the SSH server package! D’oh!)

Setting up for headless operation turned out to be trivially easy:
% sudo systemctl disable lightdm.service
In other words, disable the graphical login greeter. (In the old days I would have specified % sudo init 3.) Yay! And into the corner you go little computer!

Other hard drives

Next on my list was mounting my other hard drives in sensible places. By default, Ubuntu had mounted them under /media/andy, and they only mounted on logging in to a desktop session. Running headless, they were never mounted unless I did so explicitly. On the plus side, that made it very easy to get them set up properly. A quick search led me to this post at Ask Ubuntu with a nice clear layout of the steps required.

I created a couple of mount points for my hard drives under / (literally just % sudo mkdir /mountpoint1 /mountpoint2). After that I ascertained the UUIDs for each hard drive (using blkid), and edited /etc/fstab to add the relevant details in the right place. Then I ran
% sudo mount -a
to (re)mount the disks, and I was good to go.


Since this machine’s primary purpose is to be a file store/network drive, I needed to get Samba up and running. Installing Samba was easy, and setting up was just as easy thanks to this post at Linuxbabe. Installing Samba automatically enables it as a service and sets it running, which is very convenient. I tested it out by re-creating my network drive in Windows, and then mounted it from my Macbook Pro too. All seemed to work just fine.

Final thoughts

And that was pretty much it. Very easy, very smooth. Had I thought things through a bit more closely, I could have saved myself a bit of time and a couple of steps, but in the end it was no hassle thanks to the articles I mentioned above.

I’m sure I’ll find more things missing, and I haven’t done anything about setting up Python, Perl, Java, or any compilers. But much of my development work is done on my Macbook Pro these days, so I’ll just deal with it when the time comes.

Earthshine crescent

So the sunset didn’t amount to much, but then the moon appeared.

I was so hoping that last night’s sunset would be as awesome as the one ten years ago so I could post a glorious photo today and wonder at two sunsets on the same day a decade apart. While it looked promising, I either missed the peak colour or there wasn’t much to get excited about.

As it got darker I suddenly had a thought: I’d checked the phase of the moon a couple of days ago and figured that by now it must be visible in the evening sky. I went back out onto our balcony and there it was: a gorgeous slender crescent, with more than a hint of earthshine. Camera time! I really like the fact that there are some clouds in the sky, and the moon is even shining through them. Very photogenic.

As a side note, I think Earthshine Crescent sounds like it would be a lovely road to live on 🙂

Today’s sunset

Today’s sunset from a decade ago.

Trawling through the archives in search of more throwback Thursday shots, I found this nice sunset from April 27th, 2007: exactly 10 years ago today 🙂 I took a big panorama of the same sunset, which I combined with Autostitch, and was mostly happy with it. Fast forward ten years, and I had another go at processing the images (in DxO this time), and then combined them with Hugin. Now, that didn’t work quite so well – Hugin is definitely a more discerning program when it comes to combining photographs to create a panorama. Since this panorama was taken with our old compact camera (Canon A80), I had little control over things like the focus, and I think Hugin interprets such data at face value, so it’s not surprising that it didn’t work quite as well. I’ve since learned to focus the camera once and then turn off autofocus for any panoramas.

However, you have to look pretty closely to see the errors. Sure, if I were printing this larger, then I’d want to ensure the photos were matched up as closely as possible, but for showing on the Internet, a few pixels here and there aren’t going to show. Despite that, I think it’s still a nice picture.

Vancouver sunset, 27 Apr 2007

Waterfall season

Shannon Falls from the side, this view is from the parking lot at the Sea to Sky gondola – waterfall season is fast approaching!

It’s been a pretty miserable winter here in Vancouver. Lots of rainy days, and sunshine has been hard to come by. But rain and snow make for good waterfalls, so there’s something to be said for enduring all the grey and damp. Shannon Falls near Squamish is usually a good bet for a good flowing waterfall, and this day was pretty good for early spring conditions. I’ve seen the falls flowing much more strongly than this, but today there was enough to get some good misty spray drifting from the upper cascades. We’d called in to the Sea to Sky gondola to buy annual passes (aka Christmas presents!) and caught this nice view of the falls as we walked from the car, a slightly different perspective than usual.


Magnificent Mount Currie looks impressive from any angle.

One of the most impressive sights in Pemberton is the jagged skyline and rugged north face of Mt Currie. More of a massif than a single summit, it has the look of a Real Mountain(TM), simultaneously intimidating and appealing. Remarkably, it has a relatively straightforward ascent route, albeit one that is very steep and gains well over 2000 m of elevation, and requires little more than determination and some route-finding abilities once up in the alpine. I don’t say this very often, but I would really like to make it to its summit, and check out the view of the Pemberton Valley: it must be stunning.

This view is from the beginning of the trail up to Nairn Falls. At first, it just seems like there is some bright, sunlit cloud behind the trees and it’s only when you pass a gap in the trees that you realize you’re looking up to the top of an enormous mountain (although this isn’t even the summit itself, which is hidden behind this sub-peak). It’s rare to be in such a position around here – to me it’s how I imagine it must feel to be in the Himalayas. Even the Rockies rarely feel quite this imposing (Mt Robson the exception here). Speaking of those gaps in the trees, a clear view of the mountain is not possible from the trail, so I was happy to make do with this angle, with the mountain framed by the boughs of nearby Douglas firs.

The time of flowers

Couldn’t resist going back for another photo session with the fawn lilies 🙂 I even found a pink one! And yes, just one, hiding out among the false lily-of-the-valley.

I just knew it would happen – the draw of documenting this year’s fawn lily display was too strong and I headed over to Lighthouse Park once again with a bit of time in hand so I could crawl around on wet moss and grass in my attempts to capture the perfect flower photo. Quite a few of the flowers were past their peak, and one patch in particular that I was hoping to capture had already flowered and were now well into their seed-pod phase. But I still found plenty to admire, plus I found a couple of new patches off the beaten path to carefully investigate next year.

After my recent escapades with getting flower photos I’ve decided that our next camera absolutely must have a tilting or articulating/fold-out screen. It’s simply impossible to look through a viewfinder that’s anywhere from 4 to 12 inches off the ground without getting wet, muddy, or trampling other plants. I used Live View on the SLR for framing where possible, but even then it’s hard to see a 3-inch (vertical) screen so close to the ground. Worse, the reflections off the screen make it almost impossible to see what you’re framing, what the camera’s focusing on, or what you’ve taken. So once again I ended up using the compact camera for more shots than I expected, despite it being trickier to focus correctly (by which I mean it’s harder to get it to focus on the correct subject).

But as I mentioned above, this visit had one little surprise in store for me. As I walked back to the parking lot, I noticed something pink at the far edge of a patch of false lily-of-the-valley behind a big cedar. I leaned against the split-rail fence, zoomed in, held the camera at arm’s length and took a snap just for the record. It really did seem to be the only one as I couldn’t see any other leaves. I’ll be sure to look out for that again on future visits, and, if no one’s looking, I just might hop the fence for a closer look…