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Jokey Jauntalope

I told my wife I was upgrading from Intrepid Ibex to Jaunty Jackalope last night. She joked that I just made that up.

Upgrading was, as usual, fairly painless. Sound seems to work, though I haven't beaten it up yet.

Flash is broken on my amd64 setup. I installed the Adobe plugin from the Ubuntu archive and the other two alternative Flash versions to no avail. A bit of a hunt and the IntarWeb showed me a workaround. Grabbing a "preview" version of the latest amd64 Linux Flash plugin, I built a plugins directory under .mozilla in my home dir, dropped the flash plugin .so file into that directory, restarted Firefox, and bada boom, Flash. With some limitations. But I can play Chain Rxn on Facebook without it blowing up. Yay.

I'm still testing things in Jaunty. But I do notice snappier response in Firefox and it seems to boot more quickly than Intrepid. 'Tis a good upgrade.

New Monitor

My beloved Samsung SyncMaster 19p went to compost this morning, dropping me out of my online shopping spree by proceeding to produce not a paltry picture perforce. After at least 7 years of use, Testing with my wife's monitor nailed down that it was the monitor and not the video card, so I did some quick online checking, decided that another Samsung would be good, and traipsed to the local Fry's to pick up a T220. 'Course they didn't have one in stock and I didn't really want the floor model, so I went with an LG L227WTG.

This is a 22" diagonal wide screen. Biggest monitor I've owned. While it was a breeze to set up in Winders XP, Ubuntu wasn't so sure about the whole thing. Despite Intrepid Ibex's touting that users no longer have any reason to update the xorg.conf, I had to do so to allow Ubuntu to roll with the native resolution of 1680x1050. Between running nvidia-settings from a root terminal session, generating a Modeline for xorg.conf via gtf, and manually adding the Modeline to the monitor section of my xorg.conf, everything eventually clicked.

I'll tell ya, it was worth the trouble.

The biggest negative is that I can't flip this new monitor like my 19p to view and edit documents with a full page per screen. Right now I'm fine with that, though. It's a pretty monitor. Kind of low quality as far as what I'm used to (some color distortion in one corner, true black doesn't happen with the monitor at the top and bottom edges), but plenty fine. Having a wide desktop is very strange, but I love being able to cram more things in horizontally. This is the first shiny-fronted monitor I've had in quite a while, too, but it seems like that's going to be no problem. We'll see tomorrow morning when the sun's shining in the window behind me.

Gotta play a big DVD video now for testing. Hee.

Hardy to Intrepid

I just upgraded my desktop Ubuntu install from Hardy Heron to Intrepid Ibex. Overall I'm fairly impressed, but it's definitely not an upgrade for the Linux n00b based on my experiences, at least not with some of my hardware installed.

Slightly snappier
Not much more to say here, it just seems a touch snappier than Hardy.

Video driver joy
No need to rely on downloading NVidia drivers for video every time the kernel gets an upgrade. The right NVidia drivers are finally part of the Ubuntu repos and seem to install correctly. Well, except for setting up for screen rotation, which my monitor can do. See below.

Permission issues
I chowned all the files in my ~/.kde hierarchy to my login account name after a few complaints there, not a big problem at all there.

However, as with my laptop's upgrade, the new Network Manager had some fits with my old (normal for Ubuntu pre-Intrepid) eth0 static IP connection. So /etc/network/interfaces got a little cleanup action in yanking out eth0, then I restarted the box and updated what was left in the Network Manager to my normal network settings. It's astonishing that this isn't resolved by the upgrade installation.

Sound issues
After following an outstanding post on the Ubuntu forums to get PulseAudio all set up, I was seeing that audio should be going through, but still didn't hear anything. Finally, I found it: The OS upgrade seems to have set my Audigy 2's output to the digital port, which I don't use. Unchecking that there box in the Volume Control (right-click on "open Volume Control" from the GNOME taskbar volume applet, choose the Switches tab) immediately fixed the issue. I read in several places that PulseAudio isn't quite "there" yet, but so far I'm seeing no issues.

Video driver unjoy
I couldn't rotate my video 90 degrees clockwise from Screen Resolution. Screen Resolution allows for flipping the screen upside down, but that's it. A check in Synaptic told me that the excellent nvidia-settings package was installed, so I ran it from the command line and found the detailed screen rotation controls I remembered. I checked around a bit and added the "RandRRotation" "on" option to my xorg.conf with no effect. So I set up nvidia-settings as a menu entry via the Main Menu app and just use that to rotate.

NFS automount stopped automounting
My file server presents an NFS mount point that my desktop used to automount on startup. Intrepid doesn't automount this during boot anymore. There is some discussion on the Ubuntu forums about this, but I haven't found a fix yet. It looks like there's an unspecified internal error on the mount, but running sudo mount /[my nfs mountpoint] from the command line runs fine with no complaints. Maybe the mount request is occurring before the network is up. This is still on my list of things to check into. [update: Setting the wired connection to "system setting" in Network Manager seems to have resolved this. Can I hear a YAYezz?]

It's a Little Drafty

Any other Ubuntu fans waiting for Ubuntu 8.10, codenamed Intrepid Ibex, to come out tomorrow? I am, but the main draw for me is on my laptop, where my ath9k-based 802.11 draft n wireless card isn't quite working right with the latest kernel upgrades for Ubuntu's Hardy Heron release. Intrepid Ibex has ath9k support built in, since those drivers were merged with the Linux kernel a few months ago, so I won't have to worry about support for the thing after upgrading. Hopefully.

Draft n wireless? Why Brant, you're into stability and draft n is an uncertified technology that may need to be replaced in the future! WTF?

Well, I'm sad to say that my wife's system's too dang slow on a wireless g connection, and since I'm starting to use my laptop more, I wanted to have some more bandwidth on the local network while I roam around the haus with my 2-month-old daughter, too. My wife's system's slow anyway, but I don't like watching the network connection across the haus being a bottleneck. The draft n technology seems to run data faster and seems to have a better connection across the haus from one side to the other.

So far so good, but there's a catch.

I got a new wireless access point that I could use as a bridge to my existing 54g setup, but I decided to simplify instead and replace the 54g configuration entirely. The new access point can run at 2.4GHz, the same band as normal a/g wireless, or at 5.0GHz, but not both at the same time. I use my iPod Touch fairly frequently for WiFi access in the haus, and it's only going to use 2.4GHz, as far as I can tell. My iRex iLiad is in the same boat, though it has a wired connection and is just no fun using online with its slow refresh rate. The rest of the network is running on the Atheros 9k chips and should be able to run on the 5.0GHz band. No real catch yet, I set things to run on the lowest common denominator, the 2.4GHz band. Everything connects fine, but now I find that our baby monitor seems to want to run in the same 2.4 GHz band and gets static around the access point, probably interfering with the wireless network when there's sound just like my old 2.4GHz wireless handset phone. AAAGH!

I haven't run any tests yet to see exactly what effect the monitor has on wireless access, but I may have to plug in the old 54g wireless access point for my not-very-much-used iPod Touch and switch the new highly-used access point to 5GHz. That or dump the iPod Touch for an iPhone 3G so data can run over the cell network. I don't want to spend the cash-sh-sh-sh-sh on an iPhone 3G, though.

So I'll be setting up the old 54g access point later today, most likely, and testing like crazy with the other systems in the haus on the new 5.0 GHz band.

Technology: rushing forward only to be hamstrung by the need for backwards compatibility with what's already been built.

Reading and VMing

I'm still reading Dhalgren and finding it fairly schizophrenic in places, but it's all hanging together fairly well overall. The main character is a little irritating now, but not badly enough to keep me from getting through the rest of the book. There are a few plot lines that have become apparent, but Delany moves them forward rather obliquely, making his points with monologues and long-running strings of actions rather than directly. There's some very enjoyable, very beautiful near-poetic work in the novel mixing in with the rest of the narrative. I've figured out much of the symbolism and the mythological tie-ins and am just waiting for more of the plot to thicken. I think I've reached a point, though, where our hero's had a mental breakthrough (as well as another sort of breakdown), and I have a strong feeling that the rest of the novel is going to move more quickly, that most of the main characters have been introduced and the basic exposition's done. Contrary to many reviews I've read, I don't feel this is a seminal literary work. It's an important one, yes, and definitely has made some impact on me, but it's not the same as really picking apart To Kill a Mockingbird or American Gods.

I've taken up reading the Myth Adventure series as a counterpoint to Dhalgren's density, and have been enjoying those books very much. I love the way the hero is sort of bumbling, but not completely incompetent, and the Imps, Deveel's, Archers, Pervects, and other "demons" are a blast to read about.

Not a lot going on on the technical side lately. With a newborn in the haus, my normal geeking-out time's pretty much gone. Still, I took the time to try out Guild Wars under Wine with mixed success. GW was way too slow under Wine to play effectively, but it was near-playable, and I may have to see if a virtual machine will run it well enough to stop me from having to boot into Windows at all.

The Microsoft-Free PC

IBM is firing people up for "The Microsoft-free PC" initiative, a push for corporate MS-free desktops focusing on Linux distributions as base platforms. This could get interesting, as it will basically involve developers creating Linux compatible clients for the plethora of Windows apps that corporate PCs tend to run to get their work done. I definitely couldn't use an MS-free PC at work because of all of the clients I have to run, and I'm sure that's going to be the case elsewhere. Most importantly, there would be much less support for problematic clients if there's some sort of emulator running between Linux and Windows clients.

It's going to come down to ROI, always the money question. Is the cost of potential lack of professional support, in-house help desk retraining for Linux vs. Windows, and developer time worth moving away from having to pay for Windows? Few businesses are going to go for this as it stands. But if IBM throws development resources at the problem, the equation changes enough that some businesses might find it more attractive, especially smaller shops and startups.

My understanding is that MS Office works ok under Linux with something like Wine under it, so that major hurdle has been passed already. I prefer, of course, but every corporate position I've had has required some or most components of MS Office.

Somewhat related to this, my wife's Compaq PC is fairly ancient, and I don't want to buy another version of Windows when her system needs replacement. The poor thing only has 512 megs of RAM and it's not upgradeable either. The horror! I need to check out the two major applications she uses to see if I can get them running decently under Linux on newer hardware: MS Office and an old Quicken version. Guess I have to fire up one of my extra PCs here, stuff Ubuntu on it, and see what I can get running. Ooh, her multifunction printer could be a real fun test. The tweaker in me is drooling already.

Still More Hardy Har Har and GVim

New updates were available in Hardy Heron yesterday, including a Linux kernel update. 'Woo hoo!' said I as I grabbed the updates and rebooted....

Into low res mode. The NVidia video driver wasn't working with the new kernel version. So I went through uninstalling the driver through envy-ng, downloading the driver from NVidia, booting into safe mode, uninstalling and reinstalling the driver, and about ten minutes later I had a newer NVidia driver running smoothly.

So far, so good with the latest updates.

I decided to give myself a crash course in GVim by using it as my default text editor at work and home, and after some customization, I'm now about as proficient with it as I was with NoteTab Pro, though GVim doesn't open multiple text files nearly as elegantly as NoteTab Pro, and its block sorting isn't as easy. For other stuff, though, it's working great for me.

Why the crash course? I kept forgetting simple commands like how to go back to the top of a file when I was using Vim in HP-UX as part of my work, so I decided to just dive in and learn to really swim in Vim. I can't call myself a guru yet, but I'm able to get around very well. Favorite newly-learned Vim key is "t" which means "search for the next instance of the next character you type". "t" searches forward, "T" searches backward. The mnemonic for it is "'til" as in short for "until". There are differences in how GVim runs under Windows and Linux, but I've been able to minimize those differences through the .gvimrc file thanks to and the Vim Tips Wiki.

My point here isn't to stoke the editor war so much as to point out one of my favorite methods of learning new computer-related things - immerse and learn to swim. Unlike my younger days, though, I always try to have a plan B and/or a backup available, and I hit the manual and/or IntarWeb smarty-folks much sooner than I used to if I run into a roadblock. It's been a pretty good learning method for me so far with regard to most things computerish. It's not so hot for other things. Try it out if ye can next time you want to learn something.

Hardy Har Har

I have some minor annoyances with Ubuntu Hardy Heron:

Installing the latest version of btnx, deleting all the buttons in it, and reconfiguring them has not resolved an issue I was having where Firefox 3 beta overrides btnx's configuration. FF3's override stays after FF3's closed, but restarting btnx resets the mouse buttons back to what I want them to be. If I don't use FF3 beta, the mouse buttons stay fine. One possible culprit is the FireGestures add-on for FF3. My favorite All-In-One Gestures isn't updated for FF3 yet, so I had to settle for FireGestures. I'm still looking into this.

Print driver. I was trying to see if XSane, a scanning engine for Linux, was usable, and decided to install a package of HP drivers. Lo and behold, my HP Laserjet 1200 printer was wroth at such action, and perforce decideth to lock up ye systemme when accessed. I've fixed this driver-related screwup and still hate XSane's insanity. So Windows is still where I go to scan images. Grr. I know, that's an XSane issue. But the printer driver shouldn't be updated unless I tell the damn thing to be updated, mmkay?

I guess this next one isn't really a Hardy issue, it's an XMMS issue. XMMS, the Linux Winamp, is not available under Hardy Heron. Imagine my delight when I found out that XMMS was replaced with XMMS2. 2 must be better than the first iteration, right? RIGHT!? Well, yes and no. Turns out that XMMS2 is a daemon that does a great job of playing music, but it expects user interaction through the command line rather than a GUI. This blows my mind a little. I mean, I understand that they're pulling away from coding graphics and just want to focus on the playback, but come on, why not have a superbasic GUI? Instead there are plenty of potential XMMS2 front ends that are in development, none of which has the ease of use of XMMS. *sigh* On the other hand, exaile, the Gnome version of amaroK, a decent iPod-aware program, is looking pretty stable, and it seems like the quiet playback issue has been resolved. So I'm using that now for music.

I have a cron job that runs hourly to mirror my current home directory structure to my file server via rsync. After I booted into Hardy, I tried to run the cron job manually to get a snapshot of any config files that had changed. Interestingly enough, hard drive access on my file server went berserk. Turns out that a directory called .gvfs in my home directory was pretty much a mirror of the entire hard drive. Yep, the cron job was trying to sync up the Gnome Virtual File System. The job crashed out with an error, fortunately, so I excluded that directory and all's good now. So that was fun. Running df at the command prompt, there's an entry called "gvfs-fuse-daemon" that's the same size as my hard drive. Again, the Gnome Virtual File System is the culprit. Having looked at a general overview of what the GVFS project is doing, I'm all for it, but 'tis a might bit funky at the moment.

Finally, and this may be an NVidia driver issue, there are some occasional visual glitches once in a while that resolve themselves, but a flash of discombobulated video isn't something I like in my desktop experience. Anyone else seeing this with a high end NVidia card?

Good things about Hardy far outweigh the negatives. It's much more responsive overall, and seems to run my CPU cooler for some reason under the same load. Boot time is very snappy. Google Notebook and seem to have embraced Firefox 3 beta with mostly-functional updates, which, aside from my mouse button woes, were my big beefs with Firefox 3 beta. It's good. Just more troublesome than my Feisty Fawn to Gutsy Gibbon upgrade.

Hardy in da Haus

I took the plunge into Hardy Heron already. So far I have mainly good things to report. I had issues getting the NVidia driver to work right with my 8800 GTS 512, but after utterly uninstalling the one that envy installed under Gutsy Gibbon and installing the NVidia driver through recovery root prompt with a -f to force installation, the driver's installated fine. Another hardware-related issue arose from btnx, which I used to map a couple mouse buttons, seeming to be a little confused. I had to redetect buttons, for example, then the newly remapped buttons work fine in most things, except that Firefox doesn't seem to be consistent with it. I'll have to experiment more to see if I can figure out what's happening.

But as I said, so far, mostly so good. I want to play with the new task scheduling to see if I can break it. Seems like CPU usage with BOINC using no more than 80% of the CPU is a bit odd. I mean to say that CPU usage had a pattern when looking at the System Monitor in Gutsy, but not so much in Hardy, where both CPU cores tend to stick around 100% usage more of the time... Ah, I forgot about the file indexing, that's probably rolling in the background and since I turned off the indexer tray icon I'm just not seeing it. Durr.

The Firefox 3 beta that's included with Hardy needs some more work, but I expect updates to come in as the application's development reaches release. Inclusion of a beta as a main browser in a desktop OS is a bit odd to me, but it's just about fully baked, so no biggie.

Seems like Hardy's a touch more responsive than Gutsy, but I haven't pushed it hard, as I said above. I think the thing I like most about Hardy is the commitment to be supported for three years.

Now I'm off to play with multimedia apps to see how they do.

Linux and Media

I'm still using Linux for my primary desktop for the foreseeable future and wanted to weigh in on the state of multimedia compatibility. Well, at least my own experiences. To catch up some readers, I've jailbroken my iPod Touch, it's running the 1.3 firmware, and I'm able to connect to it in Linux through SSH. Which brings me to the crux of this, a commentary on the state of multimedia apps on Linux. Frankly, they're behind Windows apps, which makes me grumpy enough to not put links in this post.

Amarok, for whatever reason, doesn't play well with my GNOME-based Linux setup. I have no idea why, but it locks right up on startup. Maybe I should try it again since the KDE libraries have been upgraded recently. This left me with gtkpod as my Linux iPod-related music manager. gtkpod wants to look at my existing file library when it starts up, when I change some information on a song, etc. It becomes a click, do something else for a few minutes, click, do something else for a few minutes routine. Not good. Synching to the iPod Touch is slow, mainly because I have most of my music library in Ogg Vorbis format that gtkpod happily converts to mp3 for me on the fly. This I like.

On the Windows side, there's iTunes, which is functional but system-intrusive, and the latest beta of MediaMonkey, which I purchased because it does what gtkpod does, doesn't intrude like iTunes, and is fairly speedy except for the ogg-to-mp3 conversions. iTunes doesn't let me put 3/4 of my library onto my iPod Touch because it doesn't want to even look at Ogg Vorbis files in its default configuration. Screw dat.

So my best iPod Touch manager is a Windows application now. 'Sokay, I'm in Windows playing games fairly often anyway. But it's irritating. The problem is Apple's dopey attempt to control the iPod's content. This is hardware that's being marketed to tech-savvy, Apple, the community will find workarounds. Open it up! I have an iRiver H340 that I can directly access like a hard drive (actually it is a hard drive) through USB. No special software's needed, I just plunk files onto the thing. If there's something new on the unit when it powers up, it updates its database and away we go. The iRiver also plays .ogg files, which probably make up over 75% of my music. But you guys have probably heard about that enough already in my blog.

OK, so after writing this so far, I noticed that my Audacious configuration is playing my freshly-ripped music with pops and clicks. I dropped the CPU usage on my BOINC configuration without any relief. Thinking maybe it was the original file, I played the same file flawlessly through XMMS. DAMMIT! I'll play with it more some other time.

My point is this: Linux's amazing flexibility has a serious drawback in the form of a lack of stable and cohesive media handling. While I'm no slouch when it comes to doing crazy stuff to get something to work on Linux and understand the value of such as learning experience, I'd rather not have to do it. I'd also rather be able to have one or two applications to do my media than one that's better at handling my 5.1 speaker setup or WMV files or DVDs with deep menu systems than another.

Linux leet hax0rz, please can I have something that works as well for me as MediaMonkey for organizing my music and interacting with my iPod Touch, and something with the excellent playback capabilities of foobar2000? I'm too dumb and busy to figure it out on my own. Actually, I may try foobar2000 using Wine. I already know MediaMonkey doesn't work under Wine.

Sometimes I miss Windows's "it just works" when it comes to multimedia.


Brant Clabaugh


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