Setting the PHP version in .htaccess on Apache web servers

The default PHP version on my outdoors, travel and photography website is 5.2.17 and that is getting on a bit now since it is no longer supported by the PHP project and has not been thus since 2011. One obvious impact was Piwik, which I used for web analytics and needs at least 5.3.2. WordPress 4.0 even needs 5.2.24 so that upgrade became implausible so i contacted Webfusion’s support team and they showed me how to get to at least 5.3.3 and even as far as 5.5.9. The trick is the addition of a line of code to the .htaccess file (near the top was my choice) like one of the following:

PHP 5.3.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php53 .php

PHP 5.5.x

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php55 .php

When I got one of these in place, things started to look promising but for a locked database due to my not watching how big it had got. Replacing it with two additional databases addressed the problem of losing write access though there was a little upheaval caused by this. Using PHP 5.5.9 meant that I spotted messages regarding the deprecation of the mysql_connect function so that needed fixing too (prefixing it with @ might be a temporary fix but a more permanent one always is better so that is what I did in the form of piggybacking off what WordPress uses; MySQLi and PDO_MySQL are other options). Sorting the database issue meant that I saw the upgrade message for WordPress as well as a mix of plugins and themes so all looked better and I need worry less about losing security updates. Also, I am up to the latest version of Piwik too and that’s an even better way to be.

A need to update graphics hardware

Not being a gaming enthusiast, having to upgrade graphics cards in PC’s is not something that I do very often or even rate as a priority. However, two PC’s in my possession have had that very piece of hardware upgraded on them and it’s not because anything was broken either. My backup machine has seen quite a few Linux distros on there since I built it nearly four years ago. The motherboard is an ASRock K10N78 that sourced from MicroDirect and it has onboard an NVIDIA graphics chip that has performed well if not spectacularly. One glitch that always existed was a less than optimal text rendering in web browsers but that never was enough to get me to add a graphics card to the machine.

More recently, I ran into trouble with Sabayon 13.04 with only the 2D variant of the Cinnamon desktop environment working on it and things getting totally non-functional when a full re-installation of the GNOME edition was attempted. Everything went fine until I added the latest updates to the system when a reboot revealed that it was impossible to boot into a desktop environment. Some will relish this as a challenge but I need to admit that I am not one of those. In fact, I tried out two Arch-based distros on the same PC and got the same results following a system update on each. So, my explorations of Antergos and Manjaro have to continue in virtual machines instead.

To get a working system, I gave Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon a go and that worked a treat. However, I couldn’t ignore that the cutting edge distros that I tried before it all took exception to the onboard NVIDIA graphics. systemd has been implemented in all of these and it seems reasonable to think that it is coming to Linux Mint at some stage in the future so I went about getting a graphics card to add into the machine. Having had good experiences with ATi’s Radeon in the past, I stuck with it even though it now is in the hands of AMD. Not being that fussed so long there was Linux driver support, I picked up a Radeon HD 6450 card from PC World. Adding it into the PC was a simpler of switching off the machine, slotting in the card, closing it up and powering it on again. Only later on did I set the BIOS to look for PCI Express graphics before anything else and I could have got away without doing that. Then, I made use of the Linux Mint Additional Driver applet in its setting panel to add in the proprietary driver before restarting the machine to see if there were any visual benefits. To sort out the web browser font rendering, I used the Fonts applet in the same settings panel and selected full RGBA hinting. The improvement was unmissable if not still like the appearance of fonts on my main machine. Overall, there had been an improvement and a spot of future proofing too.

That tinkering with the standby machine got me wondering about what I had on my main PC. As well as onboard Radeon graphics, it also gained a Radeon 4650 card for which 3D support wasn’t being made available by Ubuntu GNOME 12.10 or 13.04 to VMware Player and it wasn’t happy about this when a virtual machine was set to have 3D support. Adding the latest fglrx driver only ensured that I got a command line instead of a graphical interface. Issuing one of the following commands and rebooting was the only remedy:

sudo apt-get remove fglrx

sudo apt-get remove fglrx-updates

Looking at the AMD website revealed that they no longer support 2000, 3000 or 4000 series Radeon cards with their latest Catalyst driver the last version that did not install on my machine since it was built for version 3.4.x of the Linux kernel. A new graphics card then was in order if I wanted 3D graphics in VWware VM’s and both GNOME and Cinnamon appear to need this capability. Another ASUS card, a Radeon HD 6670, duly was acquired and installed in a manner similar to the Radeon HD 6450 on the standby PC. Apart from not needing to alter the font rendering (there is a Font tab on Gnome Tweak Tool where this can be set), the only real exception was to add the Jockey software to my main PC for installation of the proprietary Radeon driver. The following command does this:

sudo apt-get install jockey-kde

When that was done I issue the jockey-kde command and selected the first entry on the list. The machine worked as it should on restarting apart from an AMD message at the bottom right hand corner bemoaning unrecognised hardware. There had been two entries on that Jockey list with exactly the same name so it was time to select the second of these and see how it went. On restarting, the incompatibility message had gone and all was well. VMware even started virtual machines with 3D support without any messages so the upgrade did the needful there.

Hearing of someone doing two PC graphics card upgrades in a weekend may make you see them as an enthusiast but my disinterest in computer gaming belies this. Maybe it highlights that Linux operating systems need 3D more than might be expected. The Cinnamon desktop environment now issues messages if it is operating in 2D mode with software 3D rendering and GNOME always had the tendency to fall back to classic mode, as it had been doing when Sabayon was installed on my standby PC. However, there remain cases where Linux can rejuvenate older hardware and I installed Lubuntu onto a machine with 10 year old technology on there (an 1100 MHz Athlon CPU, 1GB of RAM and 60GB of hard drive space in case dating from 1998) and it works surprisingly well too.

It seems that having fancier desktop environments like GNOME Shell and Cinnamon means having the hardware on which it could run. For a while, I have been tempted by the possibility of a new PC since even my main machine is not far from four years old either. However, I also spied a CPU, motherboard and RAM bundle featuring an Intel Core i5-4670 CPU, 8GB of Corsair Vengence Pro Blue memory and a Gigabyte Z87-HD3 ATX motherboard included as part of a pre-built bundle (with a heatsink and fan for the CPU) for around £420. Even for someone who has used AMD CPU’s since 1998, that does look tempting but I’ll hold off before making any such upgrade decisions. Apart from exercising sensible spending restraint, waiting for Linux UEFI support to mature a little more may be no bad idea either.

Update 2013-06-23: The new graphics card in my main machine is working as it should and has reduced the number of system error report messages turning up too; maybe Ubuntu GNOME 13.04 didn’t fancy the old graphics card all that much. A rogue .fonts.conf file was found in my home area on the standby machine and removing it has improved how fonts are displayed on there immeasurably. If you find one on your system, it’s worth doing the same or renaming it to see if it helps. Otherwise, tinkering with the font rendering settings is another beneficial act and it even helps on Debian 6 too and that uses GNOME 2! Seeing what happens on Debian 7.1 could be something that I go testing sometime.

Getting an Epson Pefection 4490 Photo scanner going with Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.10

My Epson Perfection 4490 Photo scanner has been in my possession for a while now and its impossible to justify any replacement given that it both works well and digital photography has taken over from its film predecessor for me. Every time I go installing an operating system afresh, I need to reinstate it again and last year’s installation of Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.04 only saw me do the deed recently. When I did so, it was brought back to me that I’d never gone and documented on here how this was done. Given that I sometimes use this place as a repository of stuff to which I need to refer again in the future, it seemed remiss of me so here it is for you all.

Though I had XSane and SimpleScan already installed on the system, Sane wasn’t on there so I went and added it and a few other extras using the following command:

sudo apt-get install sane sane-utils libsane-extras

Then, it was onto the Epson website for their Perfection 4490 Photo Linux drivers since Sane’s support for this scanner seemingly remains incomplete even though it pre-dates my move to Linux in 2007. Three files were needed and the following commands install them (depending on when you do this, the file names may be different so just change them to whatever they are for you; it can be done with a single command too but there is not enough girth for that here):

sudo dpkg -i iscan-data_1.22.0-1_all.deb
sudo dpkg -i iscan_2.29.1-5~usb0.1.ltdl7_i386.deb
sudo dpkg -i iscan-plugin-gt-x750_2.1.2-1_i386.deb

With those in place, there was one other task that needed doing so that scanning could be done without resorting to running scanning software using sudo privileges. To free up the access to a normal user account, I needed a HAL device information file. These normally are in /usr/share/hal/fdi/ but they change every time an installation so any modifications that you may make are going to be lost. Therefore, there is no point modifying either /usr/share/hal/fdi/preprobe/10osvendor/20-libsane.fdi or /usr/share/hal/fdi/preprobe/10osvendor/20-libsane-extras.fdi where scanner information usually is to be found.

The first task in creating an fdi file was to issue the lsusb command and look for a line corresponding to my scanner. This is the one that I got:

Bus 001 Device 004: ID 04b8:0119 Seiko Epson Corp. Perfection 4490 Photo

From this, I gleaned the manufacturer ID and model ID as 04b8 and 0119, respectively. These are needed later on. Next I needed to create the hal/fdi/preprobe/ folder structure under /etc since it was there. Then, I created epson4490photo.fdi in the bottom folder of the tree (/etc/hal/fdi/preprobe/epson4490photo.fdi) as follows:

cd /etc/hal/fdi/preprobe/ && sudo touch epson4490photo.fdi

Then, I edited the new file using the following command:

gksu gedit epson4490photo.fdi &

When open, I added in the following text:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<deviceinfo version=”0.2″>
<match key=”info.subsystem” string=”usb”>
<!-- Epson Perfection 4490 Photo -->
<match key=”usb.vendor_id” int=”0x04b8″>
<match key=”usb.product_id” int=”0x0119″>
<append key=”info.capabilities” type=”strlist”>scanner</append>
<merge key=”scanner.access_method” type=”string”>proprietary</merge>

It’s all in XML so the place to look is immediately beneath the scanner name comment. The int attributes of the two match elements immediately following the comment line are populated using the information from the lsusb command output with 0x prefixing both the manufacturer and model identifiers. The element with a key attribute of usb.vendor_id is the former and that with a key attribute of usb.product_id is the latter. With epson4490photo.fdi saved, I rebooted the machine to restart HAL and all was as I wanted it to be apart maybe from XSane making complaints that seemed not to be of any actual consequence. With Epson’s Image Scan! and Simple Scan on the PC, there’s no need to be bothered with those messages. Choice is good when you have it, especially when you have expended some effort to get that far.

A belated goodbye to PC Plus magazine

Last year, Future Publishing made a loss so something had to be done to address that. Computer magazines such as Linux Format no longer could enclose their cover-mounted discs in elaborate cardboard wallets and moved to simpler sleeves instead. Another casualty has been one of their longest standing titles: PC Plus.

It has been around since 1986 and possibly was one of the publisher’s first titles. It was the late nineties when I first encountered and, for quite a few years afterwards, it was my primary computer magazine of choice every month. The mix of feature articles, reviews and tutorials covering a variety of aspects of personal computing was enough for me. After a while though, it became a bit stale and I stopped buying it regularly. Then, the collection that I had built up was dispatched to the recycling bin and I turned to other magazines.

In the late nineties, Future had a good number of computing titles on magazine shelves in newsagents and there did seem to be some overlap in content. For instance, we had PC Answers and PC Format alongside PC Plus at one point. Now, only PC Format is staying with us and its market seems to be high home computer users such as those interested in PC gaming. .Net, initially a web usage title and now one focussing on website design and development, started from the same era and Linux Format dates from around the turn of the century. Looking back, it looks there was a lot of duplication going on in a heady time of expanding computer usage.

That expansion may have killed off PC Plus in the end. For me, it certainly meant that it no longer was a one stop shop like Dennis’s PC Pro. For instance, the programming and web design content that used to come in PC Plus found itself appearing in .Net and in Linux Format. The appearance of the latter certainly meant that was somewhere else for Linux content; for the record, my first dalliance with SuSE Linux was from a PC Plus cover-mounted disk. The specialisation and division certainly made PC Plus a less essential read than I once thought it.

Of course, we now have an economic downturn and major changes in the world of publishing alongside it. Digital publishing certainly is growing and this isn’t just about websites anymore. That probably explains in part Future’s recent financial performance. Then, when a title like PC Plus is seen as less important, then it can cease to exist but I reckon that it’s the earlier expansion that really did for it. If Future had one computing title that contained extensive reviews and plenty of computing tutorials with sections of programming and open source software, who knows what may have happened. Maybe consolidating the other magazines into that single title would have been an alternative but my thinking is that it wouldn’t have been commercially realistic. Either way, the present might have be very different and PC Plus would be a magazine that I’d be reading every month. That isn’t the case of course and it’s sad to see it go from newstands even if the reality was that it left us quite a while ago in reality.

Changing to web fonts

While you can add Windows fonts to Linux installations, I have found that their display can be flaky to say the least. Linux Mint and Ubuntu display them as sharp as I’d like but I have struggled to get the same sort of results from Arch Linux while I am not so sure about Fedora or openSUSE either.

That has caused me to look at web fonts for my websites with Google Web Fonts doing what I need with both Open Sans and Arimo doing what I need so far. There have been others with which I have dallied, such as Droid Sans, but these are the ones on which I have settled for now. Both are in use on this website now and I added calls for them to the web page headers using the following code (lines are wrapping due to space constraints):

<link href=”,400italic,600italic,700italic,400,300,600,700” rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/css“>
<link href=’,400italic,700,700italic‘ rel=’stylesheet‘ type=’text/css‘>

With those lines in place, it then is a matter of updating font-family and font declarations in CSS style sheets with “Open Sans” or “Arimo” as needed while keeping alternatives defined in case the Google font service goes down for whatever reason. A look at a development release of the WordPress Twenty Twelve theme caused me to come across Open Sans and I like it for its clean lines and Arimo, which was found by looking through the growing Google Web Fonts catalogue, is not far behind. Looking through that catalogue now causes for me a round of indecision since there is so much choice. For that reason, I think it better to be open to the recommendations of others.