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It should not be this hard to change my volume

December 22nd, 2011 1 comment

Normally my laptop is on my desk at home plugged into a sound system, so I never have to change the volume. However I’m currently on holiday, so that means I’m carrying my laptop around. Last night, I had the audacity to lower the volume on my machine. After all, nobody wants to wake up their family at 2am with “The history of the USSR set to Tetris.flv”. Using the media keys on my laptop did nothing. Lowering the sound in KMix did nothing. Muting in KMix did nothing. I figured that something had gone wrong with KMix and maybe I should re-open it. Well, it turns out that was a big goddamn mistake, because that resulted in me having no sound.

It took about 30 minutes to figure out, but the solution ended up being unmuting my headphone channel in alsamixer. It looks like for whatever reason, alsamixer and KMix were set to different master channels (headphone/speaker and HDMI, respectively), thus giving KMix (and my media keys) no actual control over volume.

Categories: Hardware, Kubuntu, Sasha D Tags:

Staying in shape with open source software

November 21st, 2011 No comments

On a good week, I consider myself an avid runner. Right now I’m training to run a 5k in the spring. Ideally, I’ll be able to get it under 20 minutes. Now, two of the keys to exercise are to set goals and to track your progress. Clearly I’ve got the first half under control, but the second half? Well, it turns out that’s where a lot of people falter, lose motivation, and ultimately fail. I’m no exception – I’ve tried running without really tracking my progress and I found that eventually I just gave up. Manually drawing routes, estimating distances, and keeping time take effort, and frankly I didn’t have the wherewithal to do it. Thankfully, modern technology has come to save the day. I use a Google Nexus S, which comes with a GPS and dozens of apps on the Android Market for tracking exercise.

Google My Tracks

Google happens to make an open source app that tracks runs (My Tracks). It supports waypoints (so you can get data on each mile or kilometre of your run), and it records your speed and altitude. All in all, it’s a very handy app and I use it regularly for my runs. The software integrates with Google accounts and lets you upload your runs to Google Maps and track statistics via their spreadsheets in Google Docs. And if you’re the sharing type, it also exports your runs through .gpx files .kml files and supports sharing through Twitter.

Main My Tracks spreadsheet

My Tracks summary statistics

Pytrainer

i discovered Pytrainer through an entry at another blog. If you’re more inclined to keep your data offline, it might be a better solution for you. In order to use Pytrainer, you’ll have to import your .gpx files from your phone and specify the types of activities you were tracking (running, cycling, etc). In order to get the mapping to work properly, I had to install the gpsbabel package.  Once that was set up, I had the option to use either Google Maps or the Open Map Project. The program allows you to enter information about heart rate, calories, and equipment as well, but I didn’t have any of that information available. Gathered statistics are aggregated and can be examined for specified time periods, activities, and athletes.

Uploading a new run into Pytrainer

Mapping my run

Summary statistics in Pytrainer

Endomondo

This doesn’t technically fall into the category of open source, but I feel compelled to add it because it’s actually my preferred tracking solution. Endomondo is a website (with associated Android app) that allows you to track routes with the added benefits of calorie estimation, social integration (such as competitions and commenting/”pep-talks”), and a general smoothness in functionality that the other solutions don’t really reach. It also has a “coach” available and workout playlists, but I don’t make much use of those. Not that I have anything against the functions, but for personal safety reasons, I prefer not to run with headphones.

Endomondo workout imported from My Tracks

My choices

After testing out the programs and apps mentioned here, I’ve decided to go with My Tracks and Endomondo. I chose My Tracks because it integrates seamlessly with Google Maps and Docs (I like screwing around with spreadsheets) and because despite looking stripped down and simple, it’s actually excellent at what it does. As for Endomondo: its functions overlap considerably with My Tracks, but the social environment and the excellent website make it very appealing and easy-to-use. The main reason it won out over Pytrainer is because the app takes away any uploading – the second I’m done my workout, it’s available online.

Categories: Android, Free Software, Sasha D Tags:

Representing kubuntu

November 5th, 2011 No comments

I’ve decided to roll Kubuntu 11.10 for this round of The Linux Experiment. Why Kubuntu? Well, a while back one of my teachers used xubuntu on his laptop, and I thought it looked interesting. Before Googling the distribution, I saw a picture of a koala on imgur and the letter “k” was in my head, so now I’m stuck with Kubuntu. No seriously, that’s pretty much the logic behind the decision.

If you’ve never read this site before, I ran Linux Mint with GNOME in the original experiment and survived. Obviously this time I’ll be going with KDE so that in itself will provide a change.

Installation

The installation was very easy. I downloaded a torrent of the distribution (don’t worry, I’m still seeding!) and then used Linux Live USB Creator to create a USB stick I could boot from. I estimate the entire process took me less than 30 minutes. The only part that required any sort of thought was selecting the installation partition: either the entire drive, or a partition consisting of the entire drive. I’m still not entirely sure what I did, but I went with the entire drive. I bet that won’t bite me in the ass at all!

First impression

Kubuntu is a little odd – it looks sleek, but it sounds straight out of 1996. What I mean is that it looks fantastic, but the default sounds remind me of Windows 95. For example, this is the startup sound. There were other system sounds that made me nostalgic for Heroes of Might and Magic II – not necessarily a good thing. On the other hand, it has a very crisp layout, and although I haven’t done too much customization or organization yet, it looks promising.

My first installation was Firefox. It was easy enough to do. I hit Windows (“Meta”) + Spacebar, typed in Firefox and the OS located the browser installation for me. Thunderbird required going into the software manager, but really once Firefox is installed you can just Google everything anyway.

As for other minor comments: the keyboard shortcuts aren’t as intuitive. The Meta key on its own doesn’t seem valid as a shortcut (I’m used to bringing up my menu this way), and Meta + D doesn’t bring up the desktop like it did in Mint. The screenshot application also takes some figuring out, but I’ll get the hang of it.

Oh, and I ran into an integer overflow right off the bat. It’s from the comic widget – I’m not sure if this is a Kubuntu thing or something to do with the widget itself. Anyway, I don’t think there are that many Spanish-speaking readers of xkcd.

Coño Linux!

Ay Dios mio!

Categories: Kubuntu, Sasha D Tags:

On Veetle, Linux Mint, and ICEauthority

September 21st, 2011 4 comments

Like most people, I use my computer for multimedia. Recently I’ve discovered a multi-platform program called Veetle. It’s a pretty good program, but I ran into an issue after having installed it on my system (currently running Linux Mint 11): while I was using it to stream video, my computer basically locked up – every running process continued working, but I had no control over it. Since I was watching a full-screen video, this was pretty unfortunate. After all, it often helps to be able to maneuver your windows when you’re in a bind. I also immediately noticed that I lost all sound control on my keyboard. I rebooted my computer, but when I tried to log in, I got an error telling me that my computer could not update /home/user/.ICEauthority, followed by another error message, which I’m assuming was related but of less importance.

I actually into this exact problem before on an older machine, but before I had the chance to investigate, the hard disk died (for unrelated reasons). Luckily, I recognized the error on my newer machine and put two and two together: both failures coincided with the installation of Veetle. Now, because I’m a nerd, I have two functioning and constantly active computers right next to each other, for just such an occasion! It may also be related to the fact that websites that stream media tend to be a bit iffy so I feel more secure not using my Windows machine while exploring them, but enough about that! I Googled (or Binged, assuming “Bong” or “Bung” isn’t the past tense) a solution.

The solution

As it turns out, other people have run into this same problem, and it’s been covered on the Ubuntu forums and elsewhere. Basically, I ran the Veetle script as root (D’oh!), and this royally boned everything. This post by mjcritchie at the ubuntu Forums (which follows the advice of tommcd at LinuxQuestions.org) explained what to do:

I have had the same problem twice, both times after updating (currently running 64bit Karmic).

Tried various solutions on the net, but this is the only one that worked for me:

Open a terminal and run:

Quote:
sudo chown -R user:user /home/user/.*

Where user is your user_name. This should change ownership of all the hidden files and directories in your home directory to: user:user, as they should be.

This comes courtesy of tommcd over at this post on LinuxQuestions.org

So there you have it. My machine currently works, and now I can get back to streaming media. At least until the next time I get too adventurous when installing things.

Wait, that can’t be right

December 17th, 2009 1 comment

I found an interesting bug in Mint today. It happened after I changed my monitor setup without restarting X. It looks like my panel froze with whatever programs were open earlier. What makes this interesting is that the system continue to add items to the panel without refreshing the graphics.

I like Firefox's old logo

I like Firefox’s old logo

This doesn't look like Kate to me!

This doesn’t look like Kate to me!

Categories: Sasha D Tags:

Linux Mint Helena: C’est fantastique!

December 16th, 2009 No comments

Last night I upgraded to Linux Mint 8 (Helena), x64 edition. Based on Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), Helena has so far proven to be absolutely great and the panacea to my Linux problems. By far most of my issues with Gloria seemed to come from hardware incompatibility. Well, those are all in the past now.

Audio

There was a minor issue in Gloria with regards to my computer’s sound. Basically, although my laptop’s volume had something like 15 increments, Gloria shoehorned those into four categories: Really Goddamn Loud, Loud, Barely Audible, and Mute. That is no longer the case – I finally have the full spectrum of sound available on my laptop. At last, I can stream terrible YouTube videos and listen to them in the coffee lounge without being worried what the people ten tables down from me think!

Visual

First off, I have to compliment the appearance of Helena. The default theme is slick and very easy on the eyes, and the default background is excellent. I have approximately 50 wallpapers on my computer, and the fact that I haven’t changed it out of an ADD fit really speaks for the choice.

Now, onto more interesting matters: my media players work, my monitor works, and everything works damn well. In an earlier post, I documented Mint’s inability to take advantage of my brand new 1080p monitor. Unlike my previous experience, changing resolutions was a breeze and – most importantly – my monitor finally worked in full 1080p glory. At last, everything looks absolutely gorgeous. Watching videos has also been a much smoother experience in Helena. I’m not having any difficulty jumping to random spots in video files – previously, this would do anything between slowing down the video temporarily to crashing the media player. (As a note, I have no idea if Helena is actually responsible for “fixing” that last bit, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here).

Other bugs

The desktop shift that I occasionally complain about is nowhere to be seen… yet. I never could figure out how to recreate it, so I can’t definitively say whether it has disappeared.

Compliments to the Mint people

Having seen what the open source community can do to improve and support a product, I have to say I’m extremely impressed with the work they’ve done. Just last week I stated that I would probably run a dual boot with Windows 7 as my primary system and Mint or Ubuntu as my secondary system. Well, after installing and using Helena, I have to say I’m strongly considering sticking with Mint and possibly having Windows 7 as a secondary OS for compatibility issues. I can definitely say that I wasn’t expecting a free operating system to work as well as this one does. Bravo.

Categories: GNOME, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

Successfully completing a school semester with Linux

December 5th, 2009 10 comments

For those of you who have read my profile, you know that I’m finishing up my math degree. More specifically, I’ve just finished lectures for my last term as an undergraduate student of statistics. One of my main fears about switching to a different operating system was that it would disrupt my studies. Fortunately, this fear was unfounded – in fact, I can confidently say that Linux actually made my school experience much easier and smoother than it would have been had I stuck with Windows Vista or XP.

As a statistics student, I obviously work with numbers. Some courses, such as those dealing with experimental design, have fairly simple mathematical procedures (Note: these usually follow not-so-simple justifications for the procedures). Normally I’m given a small data set and told to carry out an Analysis Of Variance (ANOVA). Since the mathematical work in these assignments is pretty straightforward, I like to carry it out in Excel, or some equivalent. Thankfully, OpenOffice.Org Calc works just as well as Excel and uses essentially the same syntax and commands, so I managed to switch between programs rather seamlessly.

Some of my other assignments require more complicated procedures (and occasionally more complicated ANOVAs), so I have to use R, which is basically a very powerful statistical tool. In Windows XP, I found that adding libraries and updating R could occasionally be a difficult process – my roommates can verify that as a consequence, I often go months without updating my programs. In Mint, there were no such troubles – installing and updating libraries is as easy as opening Synaptic and clicking a few times. Linux also provided some less important benefits, such as not having to alter every slash in a filepath to make sure that R can actually find the file. I’m guessing this has something to do with the difference between a backslash and a frontslash.

Other programs like Do, which I’ve reviewed, and Kate, my preferred text editor, make life so much easier. When I’m working, I usually have several data sets open, and I frequently have to jump between folders to access images, old code, old solutions for reference, etc. Kate simplifies things by letting me have several text files open in one window at once, so I can make better comparisons between data sets or summary tables. This is especially important for when I have data sets that are so large that viewing them in R in the terminal would be ill-advised (tip: don’t try to view anything longer than 1000 lines in terminal). Thanks to Do, I can quickly flip between several folders without ever having to move my hands off of the keyboard. In particular, this comes in handy when I need to reference some old solutions for an obscure-but-suddenly-desireable mathematical quality.

I haven’t done too much writing this term aside from updating my resume, so I won’t dwell on the various word processors. In my opinion, if the word processor can create a decent looking resume – it did, by the way – then it should suffice for any other purpose. I’ve also tried out a few other math programs (eg., gnuplot), but I haven’t used them enough to give a reasonably well-informed opinion. However, the fact that I could install them and try them out with absolutely no effort on my part really speaks well for Linux Mint.

After a long, gruelling term, I can confidently say that I benefitted academically from using Linux Mint. Along with everything I’ve mentioned, Linux has provided less direct benefits, such as faster load times and fewer restarts, which make getting started on an assignment or project easier. Despite having a few bugs ranging from annoying (I really wish Do would load on startup consistently) to catastrophic (oh my god why did my desktop shift what is going on), I will probably have some distribution of Linux running on my machine when I switch to Windows 7, if only to run R and some other math programs. If you like to do any sort of math on your computer, I recommend you give it a go too.

Categories: Free Software, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

A lengthy, detailed meta-analysis of studies of GNOME Do

November 23rd, 2009 11 comments

GNOME Do is a fantastic little program that makes Linux Mint a very comfortable experience. At first glance, GNOME Do just looks like a collection of launchers that can be docked to your window, with a search function attached for completeness. What stands out about Do, though, is that the search function offers a lot of versatility. Through Do, I can launch programs, mount and unmount drives, bring up folders, and execute a variety of actions through the plug-ins. I’ve found that it saves me a lot of mouse movement (yes, I’m that lazy) when I’m working on assignments. In less than two seconds, I can call up Kate to start up my data entry, start up R in terminal, open the folder containing all of my data, and start a conversation in Pidgin. Best of all, since the search function can be called up with the Super+Space key combination, I can do all of this without ever having to switch windows.

I also find that Do helps to clean up the clutter on my desktop. I’ve got it set up as the Docky theme on the bottom of my screen. Since I have no need for the panel, I’ve got it set up to autohide at the top of my monitor. This means when I have something maximized, it legitimately takes up the entire monitor.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

Adding or removing programs to or from Do is a cinch too – it’s as simple as dragging and dropping.

Unfortunately, it’s not all great

Like every other Linux program, Do saves time and effort. Like every other Linux program, Do also costs time and effort in the bugs that it has. The most frustrating bug I’ve had so far is that Do simply disappears on a restart. It runs and in a manner it “exists” since I can resize it on my desktop, but I can’t actually see or use it. Apparently this is a known bug, and I haven’t been able to find a decent solution to it. It’s especially unfortunate because Do provides so much convenience that when it doesn’t work properly, I feel like I’m reverting to some primitive age where I’m dependent on my mouse (the horror!)

Notice how the cursor is cut off? In reality, it's a resizing cursor, used to resize an invisible panel. It technically does work since after I reboot I find that GNOME Do inadvertently takes up half my screen.

Notice how the cursor is cut off? In reality, it's a resizing cursor, used to resize an invisible panel. It technically does function, since after I reboot I find that GNOME Do inadvertently takes up half my screen.

Regardless, I’d recommend Do for anyone who can install it. When it works, it’s great for saving you some time and effort; when it doesn’t, well, ’tis better to have loved and lost….

Resizing batches of images in Nautilus

November 1st, 2009 3 comments

If you’re like me, which you either are or are aspiring to be, then you hate having to manually resize dozens of images. Ubuntu, and Linux Mint, by extension, offers a great image resizing and rotation tool for Nautilus. This tool allows you to resize a batch of images very quickly and easily: you select the images, right-click, and select “Resize images”. You can select how you want to scale the images (the options presented are a preset ratio, a percentage of the original dimensions, or a custom size) and how you want them to be saved (you can append each copy with something like “RESIZED” or choose to simply replace the original image).

This tool is particularly handy if you’re looking to post some of your images online – having it around makes it much simpler and easier to resize several hundred images from, say, a vacation. Smaller images mean faster transfer times, and to some degree less concern about other people pilfering your high-resolution images (this is aimed more at a few social networking websites that like to claim ownership over their users’ photos).

Flash problems in Firefox

October 25th, 2009 5 comments

I mentioned in the podcast that I was having problems viewing Flash stuff in Firefox and I blamed it on KDE. I may have jumped the gun here, because the same issue started cropping up in GNOME. I went on the Linux Mint forums and other users were having similar issues. I’ve run the code that they suggested in the terminal, but I’m not sure if it worked because the problem doesn’t manifest instantly – sometimes it takes over half an hour before websites that run flash white themselves out.