ddclient: getting access to home servers despite having a dynamic IP

September 28th, 2008 edited by Tincho

Article submitted by Toni Zimmer.

There will be a day when you need access to your Debian box from another place than home, for example to get files from your home server with scp or if you’re running a webserver, an irc proxy, a ftp server, a mail server…

Most likely your ISP gives you a dynamic IP address. This problem can be solved by getting a static DNS name, so you can connect to your home even if your IP keeps changing. First of all you have to create an account with your favourite dyndns provider. I use but there are others, such as, or You can use others if you know ddclient supports its protocol.

There you can specify the hostname (combined with a domain name) for your computer. You can enable mail routing if you want to setup a home mail server.

When you install ddclient you will be asked for the dyndns service provider where you created your account. After that you must enter the complete (or fully qualified) domain name of your computer (something like and your account name (including the password, which will be stored in plaintext in /etc/ddclient.conf!). Now you have to chose the interface that connects you to internet. ddclient will get your IP address from there, so you shouldn’t be behind a NAT. Afterwards you will be asked if you want to start ddclient when connecting with PPP and if you want ddclient to run on system startup or not (probably you will use the first or the second choice). If you choose to run ddclient on startup, you can enter a delay between address checks (default are five minutes, so every five minutes your system will tell your current IP address to your dyndns service provider).

Your settings are stored in /etc/ddclient.conf and look like this:

# Configuration file for ddclient generated by debconf
# /etc/ddclient.conf

use=if, if=eth0

If everything is okay, wait a couple of minutes for the DNS information to populate and then you will be able to do something like ssh or w3m

ddlient is available in Debian since Sarge and in Ubuntu (universe) since Dapper.

Posted in Debian, Ubuntu | 9 Comments »

FlameRobin: A GUI to Administer Firebird/Interbase SQL servers

September 21st, 2008 edited by Vicho

Article submitted by Anton Kavalenka.

Firebird SQL server is popular because it is free, open, lightweight and secure. Firebird is based on the Interbase SQL server, and can be accessed by the same client libraries.

FlameRobin FlameRobin is a X-platform GUI application that makes the life of Firebird/Interbase admins easier. It’s a very light-weight solution (implemented with wxWidgets) as opposed to Tora, which tries to be universal, but is very huge and takes a while to load. FlameRobin starts almost instantly, but being lightweight doesn’t mean to be poor in features. Some of them are:

  • Create and drop database entities like tables, views, procedures, indices, domains, constraints, triggers, generators, etc.
  • Powerful SQL Editor
  • Perform SQL queries and view results in Unicode-aware GUI. Queries can be built by drag-and-dropping table columns in the SQL editor.
  • Manage several server connections
  • Perform queries on system tables RDB$xxxx (system tables)
  • Manage database rights
  • Get the DDL as text for automated table creation.
  • Event monitoring. You can subscribe to one or multiple events and control when and how many of each event happened in the database.
  • Create all the TABLES, DOMAINS, CONSTRAINTS, USERS, TRIGGERS, PROCEDURES etc, needed for database functionality.
  • FlameRobin always displays the SQL statement it’s going to run, so you always know what is happening in your database and no under-the-hood mechanism obscures your actions.
  • Editable data grid, you can modify existing data inside the grid and also add and remove rows. Blob values can be updated from files.
  • FlameRobin can have multiple log files for a given database, one for each statement, making it easy to build update scripts for production databases.

Using Firebird and FlameRobin included in Debian it is possible to backup a database from Windows, restore it on Linux and take off SQL server load from workstation. This is the only way to move database between 32-bit and 64-bit architecture. It is a feature of Firebird (or maybe bug). On the same architectures database files can be simply copied.

SQL EditorThe SQL Editor has syntax highlighting and auto-completion. SQL statements can be entered, load, saved and executed. You can prepare a query and view the execution plan without executing it.


FlameRobin is available in Debian since Etch and in Ubuntu since feisty.

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mythtv: A personal TV recorder

September 14th, 2008 edited by Vicho

Article submitted by Karl Erlandson. Do you think there are better alternatives to the packages posted here? Help us! Submit good articles about software you like!

No one likes to sit at home and wait for their favorite show to come on anymore and many have turned to buying hardware to record them for later viewing. Popular solutions to this problem include the expensive and proprietary TiVo and cable/satellite boxes with built-in TV recorders.

MythTV aims to solve these problems without the need to rent a cable box ($15/month) or buy a TiVo (~$200). An older computer can be used and all that needs to be purchased is a simple TV card, which can be found for under $30 on eBay. An HDTV card will cost you more, and will also require a more recent computer. If your TV card doesn’t come with a remote control, a controller will have to be purchased separately.

As of last year, the TV guide info used for MythTV in North America is no longer free. Unfortunately, if you live in the USA or Canada, you now have to pay a subscription fee if you want to access the TV guide info, but the cost is negligible at $20/year and going down with every new subscriber. There is a free trial period available. If you live in another country, you may find TV listings for your country in XMLTV.


MythTV main menuWhat MythTV gives you that those other boxes don’t is freedom, it’s open source so you can do whatever you want with your machine. For example, you can set it to automatically skip commercials (a feature that surprisingly works!).

MythTV can be divided into two main programs, the Backend and the Frontend. The Backend refers to the program that actually records programs and must be installed on a computer that has a TV tuner. The Frontend program allows you to view content from the Backend. Importantly, the Frontend program can be installed on the Backend or as a stand-alone program on any computer. With a Frontend only install, you can watch what you’ve recorded in any room of your house. They will also have the ability to watch live TV (with options to pause, rewind, fast forward).

MythTV also offers many recording options with the ability to record a show daily, weekly, once, only in a certain timeslot, etc. Since it is open source, various improvements have been added. An interesting plugin was developed that overcomes the problem of recording sports when games go on longer than scheduled. This program actually checks the web to see if the game it is recording has gone into extra time and adjusts the recording time to end later.

Mythtv browsing through the video library

MythTV will organize your music and video libraries and allow all that downloaded content to be played on your home entertainment system. Album and DVD art can be automatically downloaded from IMDB. I have to say that the music system could use a lot of work.

MythTV web interfaceOther options include the ability to schedule your recordings over the internet, watch your shows over the internet, display weather alerts, and notify you of new emails on screen.


MythTV is not available as a Debian package due to licensing/legal issues, but it is on debian-multimedia. To enable this repository, add this to your /etc/apt/sources.list:

deb stable main 

(instead of stable, put “testing” or “unstable” if you use that flavors of Debian). Now run apt-get update. The MythTV wiki provides instructions to install it in Debian stable (Etch), Debian unstable (Sid) and Ubuntu. The Ubuntu community has its own set of installation instructions. I found the KnoppMythWiki very useful in setting up my machine. They also offer a MythTV distribution.

Posted in Debian, Ubuntu | 6 Comments »

mrxvt: Fast, light multitabbed terminal emulator

September 7th, 2008 edited by Tincho

Article submitted by Hugo Carrer.

As any other Debian user I love writing obscure commands on my terminal. I love too having so many open terminals that I have to come up with a special system to find the one where my favorite obscure command is running on.

To be able to enjoy this I need a very fast multitabbed terminal emulator: mrxvt.

Some of the things I like the most about mrxvt are for example,

  • It is very fast and light.
  • Fast pseudo-transparency.
  • Background with your favorite images.
  • Highly configurable keyboard shortcuts.
  • You can have the same command typed on every tab at the same time. This feature is disabled by default. you can enable it by editing /etc/mrxvt/mrxvtrc and uncommenting the ToggleBroadcast macro (around line 171). After that, Ctrl+Shift+d toggles input broadcasting to all tabs.
  • Automatic or “by-hand” tab labeling.
  • It is independent of your desktop (no KDE or GNOME needed).
  • Did I mention that is very fast and light?

After installing it would look something like this:

a just installed mrxvt

You can change this rather old fashioned look by copying the example config file from
And placing it in ~/.mrxvtrc

The file is full of comments helping you with the meaning of each option. Of course you can find all available options in the man page. Some useful shortcuts are Ctrl+Shift+t to open a new tab and Ctrl+Shift+m to show the menu.

So, after playing, trying and tweaking for a little while you can get a futuristic look for your terminals. Like this one of me sketching this article on an emacs session inside mrxvt (Note all those beautiful tabs up there)

mrxvt in action

Downsides? Well it depends on the kind of user,

  • No UTF-8 support.
  • It has no config menu.
  • You have to remember the shortcuts or read the config file every now and then.
  • And as with anything worth doing, to get things working the way you want to you’ll have to read through the man page and maybe scratch your head once or twice but it’ll work.

To sum up, it’s the perfect application to config during those boring rainy weekends and then show off to your friends at work.

mrxvt is available in Debian stable and in Ubuntu too.

Posted in Debian, Ubuntu | 10 Comments »