Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Use Cash, Not Credit

I've been an avid Dave Ramsey fan for quite a while. I only really started buckling down with my budgeting over the past few months, but I've been following his principles and listening to his show for about a year now (now he's also on the Fox Business Network). At the beginning of the year I was almost $27,000 is debt (vehicle included). I'll be completely out of debt in January (this is partially dependent on my tax refund...I've apparently been paying way too much).

Here are a few things I like about Dave Ramsey and his "teachings" and why I definitely recommend them:

1. No gimmicks.
  • Dave Ramsey doesn't preach any gimmicks. He's not trying to sell you on a program, but tell you what has worked for him and hundreds of thousands of his fans.

2. Simple, common sense approach.
  • He teaches things that most people should already know. Spend less than you make, pay your debts, save for your future. Do a budget and stick to it. Simple, no?
3. Gives me a program/structure to follow.
  • I tend to be better at following something that has already been put in place and is being used by other people. If there is no template to follow I usually try to make my own way of doing things...and I never finish because I always think it could be better. Having something in place and someone to show me what to do and what not to do works for me.
4. Teaches that debt is dumb, cash is king...basically don't borrow money.
  • By the time I was 23 I was over $42,000 in debt, half of which was just stupid credit card debt. I didn't look broke because I bought a lot of crap, but before I knew it I was deeply in debt and had a huge negative net worth. I had "free money" that the the credit card company gave me and I could pay it back later. I didn't really realize that I'd be paying for it years later. I've been in debt as long as I can remember and I'm quite ready to be out of it and never get back in it. Dave teaches you that while debt is "normal," it's quite alright to not be normal. Imagine not having any payments to make, not having to worry about ruined credit, etc.
The points above are only a brief overview of the things that Dave Ramsey teaches. I'm no expert on personal finance, but for the first time in my life I feel like I have control over my money. I've tried to stick to the things Dave teaches as much as possible, but I still learning discipline when it comes to my finances (and a lot of other things).

You don't necessarily have to do everything Dave says, but it seems like quite a good thing. You have to get in the right mindset and forget about what society says about debt being normal and a part of life. It doesn't have to be! If you don't borrow money, you don't need credit...period.

In my life I've implemented quite a few things from Dave's books that have really helped me to gain control over my money and my life. This makes for a much less stressful experience with money. I don't have to worry about whether or not I'll have money for this or that. I'll write briefly about the major point that are helping me now.

1. Save for emergencies, don't borrow money for them.
  • Growing up an emergency fund was a credit card. If something broke and needed to get fixed you used a credit card to fix it. Dave Ramsey teaches to save money in an "emergency fund." It's money you have set aside for...emergencies! When you're paying off debt you start small at $1,000, but once you're out of debt save 3-6 months of expenses. DON'T TOUCH IT! It's tempting to dip into this fund to buy things, but this money is for emergencies only.
2. Spend all your money on paper (i.e.: do a budget).
  • I used to spend money throughout the month then go back and figure out what I spent it on. Then I would say to myself, "I should cut back on the coffee." That doesn't work for me. Dave teaches to do a budget as soon as you get your check. Spend all your money on paper, and stick to the budget. Budgeting is such a basic thing, but it's also so hard to do. He teaches that there isn't a perfect budget that you can write that will work from month to month. Each month is different and has different needs. This is by far the easiest way to save money...as long as you stick to the budget.
  • Another thing he teaches is to budget for infrequent expenses to spread the cost out throughout the year. For example; I budget about $144 per month throughout the year to pay for my car insurance (in a lump sum) and to pay for my vehicle registration. You know the registration; you get the letter from the DMV and suddeny remember you owe a couple hundred bucks next month. Saving throughout the year will let you not worry about it.
3. Use cash...the envelope system.
  • Don't use credit cards! It hurts to spend cash, so use it. The envelope system is basically this: put the cash for particular categories in an envelope; when the money from an envelope has run out, then you're done for the month. It might take a while to learn how much to budget for each envelope, but you'll get the hang of it. I have an emotional attachment to cash. It's hard for me to part with. Credit cards/debit cards on the other hand and very easy to swipe and thing about later. Get Rich Slowly wrote about this today.
4. Get out of debt!
  • This all really ties in. Budget, find extra money, pay off debt. Think about the feeling you'll get with not having any payments, not owing money to anyone, being completely financially independent.
Anyway...you don't have to follow Dave Ramsey, but at least take a good look at your finances and understand where your money is actually going. Don't be me and realize that you're dumb when it's too late. Luckily I'm still young and have learned this valuable lesson early...

Happy Birthday Jackson!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

VMware Server on Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS

At work we've got a Dell server that we run several VMware virtual machines on top of Ubuntu. It's been running flawlessly for over a year now. Since another long term support (LTS) release of Ubuntu is now out I decided to upgrade our system. The new Ubuntu Server 8.04 LTS will be supported until 2013. By the time it's out of support the server may no longer exist (5 years is a lot of time in the computer world).

I tested the server release on a non-production machine before deciding to upgrade our primary server. I went through the whole process of OS installation, X and GNOME installation, as well as VMware Server 1.0.6 installation. I put some virtual machines on the test system and everything worked perfectly. So now on to the installation. This isn't a step-by-step guide; I'm just letting the world (you two that are reading this) know what I did. This info is provided as is, if you screw up your computer it's your fault, not mine, blah blah...

Install Ubuntu Server 8.04LTS (okay 8.04.1)
I installed Ubuntu Server from the 8.04LTS CD. Since I've had bad luck with seemingly okay installation media in the past, and since it's a good practice, I went ahead and booted the CD on the server and had Ubuntu check the CD for defects. It said the CD was fine and after a reboot I continued.

I had to configure the partitioning manually since I have a partition with data and the virtual machines that shouldn't be touched. The only additional option I checked during installation was the OpenSSH server so I can SSH in from another machine. You could always install that package afterward, but what the hell.

The installation took all of about 2 minutes (gotta love the stripped down server release). After the installation was complete I logged in and updated all of the installed packages and the kernel. I suppose this would be an optional step, but I would recommend that at the very least you update OpenSSH.

sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude dist-upgrade

The upgrade command above will update all installed packages as well as the kernel and other packages it may normally hold back. I tested with the latest package releases and kernel and it works fine as of 2008.07.12.

Reboot the system! I have gotten into the habit of rebooting after doing things that might break the system. At least then I know where along the way the system broke and I can try to recover if necessary.

After the reboot was complete I installed the gui. I installed X, gdm and a basic GNOME desktop. In this case X and GNOME are for users that are not familiar with the Linux command line; namely people from my company that I may need to walk through certain procedures when something isn't working and I'm away. I want to be able to easily walk them through (or teach them) how to go into the VMware Server Console and access a guest machine. I installed gdm because I noticed that it was a little too difficult for some people to login to the console...I guess not seeing a window asking for username and password is a bit confusing for some people. Plus this eliminates having to type startx, which as we all know can be very tricky...

sudo aptitude install xorg gnome-core ubuntu-artwork gdm

Somewhere on the Ubuntu Forums I saw the ubuntu-artwork package being installed with gnome-core; it makes it look a lot better, but doesn't impact performance or anything. Before rebooting and getting into GNOME I added the following to the /etc/gdm/gdm.conf-custom file; this will turn off the menu giving people the option to reboot, shutdown, etc. from the greeter. If you'd rather not mess with the file manually you can also make the change after logging into GNOME (System → Administration → Login Window, Local tab, uncheck "Show Actions menu").

File: /etc/gdm/gdm.conf-custom
## You should already have a [greeter] section in that file.


I rebooted and was greeted by the oh so lovely Ubuntu login screen. I logged into GNOME and was happy to be presented with an error. It said something like

The panel encountered a problem while loading

Along with the error GNOME (panel?) asked if I wanted to delete the applet from the configuration. I don't need fast user switching so I told it to delete the applet from the configuration. When I got this on my test machine I Googled around a bit and did some testing and found that the applet isn't even installed on my machine; you think I would check this first, eh? If you want it you can install it then logout and login or restart or something. Like I said, I didn't do this, but sources say that this fixes the problem. It will also want to install gnome-system-tools.

I didn't to the following:
sudo aptitude install fast-user-switch-applet

Since I am not using (and don't want) fast user switching I'll just leave this out. I also want to disable the user's ability to hibernate, suspend, etc. Since I was having trouble making the buttons disappear and am not interested in digging more (it appears they're working on good way to do this) into it, and frankly I'd just rather have them login and logout as soon as possible, I just set the logout button to...logout.

I installed gconf-editor because I don't want to use gconftool2...but feel free.

sudo aptitude install gconf-editor

Then set the following and set them as mandatory (right-click on the entry):

apps → gnome-power-manager → general
  • Uncheck can_hibernate and can_suspend

apps → gnome-session → options:
  • Uncheck logout_prompt

Now when I click the logout icon on the panel or choose Quit from the system menu it just logs right out.

Web Browser
Occasionally I will need to take a look at a website while I'm on the server so for convenience's sake I'll install a browser...no I won't. Look, this is a server that I'm using to host other servers. It's a critical system and I've already installed X, GNOME, and other crap that adds to insecurity. I think my laptop will have to suffice if I need to lookup webpages while working on the system.

Installing VMware
Installing VMware Server (the free one) is a breeze...just make sure you get the current release (1.0.6 as of July 10, 2008). Just go to their website, www.vmware.com, register for a serial number, and download the software make sure to get the Linux Server tarball, not the RPM. Good to go.
Before installing VMware you want to make sure you have the dependencies and tools to compile the VMware modules. I did a quick Google search (cause I'm lazy) and found Ubuntu Tutorial's entry on installing VMware on Hardy Heron. Guess you can just go read that instead, eh? Since I'm running the server kernel I installed linux-headers-server instead of linux-headers-generic. You could of course have installed all these packages in the previous round of aptitude install, but I'd rather do it in steps.

sudo aptitude install build-essential linux-kernel-devel\
linux-headers-server xinetd

Reboot! Xinetd will start; you don't really have to restart if you don't want to.

To get the install going you've gotta extract the tarball you downloaded from VMware, descend into the directory it extracts to, then start the installer as the super user.

tar xvzf VMware-server-1.0.6-91891.tar.gz
cd vmware-server-distrib
sudo ./vmware-install.pl

I'm not going to walk through every single option you're presented with during the installation. For most people the defaults are all fine. I only changed the networking setup and told VMware that my virtual machines will be in a location other than the default. I have them residing on their own happy volume covered by a nice, cushy RAID5 array.

Once the install is done you should see it start the services and tell you it's all done, but before you can run the server console from the Ubuntu Server you just installed you need to link some libraries. I made the changes suggested at the Ubuntu Tutorial page and then started the VMware Server Console.

sudo ln -sf /usr/lib/gcc/i486-linux-gnu/4.2.3/libgcc_s.so\

sudo ln -sf /usr/lib/libpng12.so.0 /usr/lib/vmware\
# then go ahead and start the console

That's it! Anything else you can check our Google and VMware for help. I'm getting bored of typing. =)


Friday, July 11, 2008

CD Burning with Hardy Heron

I think I finally figured out why I was having so much trouble burning CD's in Ubuntu...

I first noticed a problem when I was at home trying to burn a CD full of software for a customer of mine (totally legal, don't worry). The system would come back with errors during the burn. I even got it to finish sometimes, but then the CD would have some corrupt files on it. Now I was burning a Xubuntu 8.04.1 CD to install on my old 800MHz Toshiba Tecra (to update the 7.10 that's on their) and I was having the same issue!! I downloaded the iso from a torrent and the file checked out okay. I even booted it in a virtual machine and had the iso check itself. I thought it may have been a dirty lens on my burner, so I cleaned the lens. I thought maybe the files being written were corrupt, but md5 checksums and other file checking seems to be fine on the source files, and I KNOW the iso is good...

So I was sifting through forums and I noticed somebody mentioned system clocking and timing issues and it got me thinking; I'm using a laptop with an AMD Turion 64 processor with AMD's PowerNow technology and it's using an "on demand" governor that throttles the CPU from 800Mhz to 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz to 2GHz, and while I'm burning CD's it goes all over the place. I set the proc to full speed and presto! The disc burned fine and booted fine and installed Xubuntu fine.

So after making whole $3!t load of coasters over several months I think I may have finally figured it out. Since I don't want to waste anymore CD's I'm not going to verify my results until I have something I need to burn, but if you're having trouble with burning CD's you may wanna take a look at that. Some desktop CPUs also have throttling so be wary (or is it weary...maybe both. Jackson?).

[edit: 2008.07.12: I just burned an Ubuntu Server CD with my clock set to full speed and it worked perfectly. So it looks like that was most likely the issue.]

Peace out.


P.S.: Xubuntu is a great version of Ubuntu that uses XFCE instead of GNOME, and has some other features that make it great for older, used-to-be-bad-ass-8-years-ago-computers...ya know the ones where 128MB of memory was a lot). Who wants to play Wolfenstein?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Reporter gets hit by a sled...

Kevin Rose Pownced this video...nice. One of those simple pleasures in life.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Move to Blogger/Blogspot

Heya Folks!

I've moved my blog to Blogger/Blogspot/Google/Your Mom because I felt like it. I didn't really feel like maintaining a Wordpress installation any more...so here's the new blog.

Until I care to find a way to automatically import all my Wordpress postings into Blogspot you can get the old posts here.