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KDE is a terrible tease and the reason we can’t have nice things

October 15th, 2009 5 comments

Last night I installed KDE and I was absolutely thrilled. For starters, it has built in widgets, which I absolutely love (when they work, that is). In general I find it a lot easier to customize than GNOME, and themes are easier to implement and look much nicer. This is a shot of my current desktop:

It's rather pretty

It's rather pretty

KDE also natively supports rotating wallpapers, which is absolutely wonderful – I had spent several futile hours toiling with cronjobs in GNOME desperately trying to get it to work. I’m not particularly proficient with Linux, so the fact that KDE offered this right out of the box really appealed to me.

The widgets range from useless-but-amusing (such as the Fuzzy Clock, which gives inaccurate times) to the practical-but-amusing (I have my frequently used folders in the top right corner) to the wonderful-but-broken (any weather widget). I’m actually a bit frustrated with the last one – I tried using LCD Weather Station, and it worked for the UK and the US, but it couldn’t read Environment Canada’s data. Maybe we could change our name to “United Canada” or something.

It gets a bit ugly

Being rather pleased with my progress, I turned on the computer this morning hoping to get my second monitor working. I plugged it in, started up my laptop and then ohjesusgodwhy my laptop and monitor started blinking on and off furiously, rendering my system unusable. Restarting X seemed to do the trick, and my laptop and monitor were synchronized and working properly. However, my monitor was only running at 1600×900, not its native 1920×1080. I decided to fix this in the most daring manner I could: changing the resolution to “1920×1080″. KDE, seeing through my dirty bag of tricks, had none of it and promptly started blinking and seizing, and to (probably incorrectly) quote Mike Tyson, convulsing like an infantile retard.

I had to restart xserver a few dozen times and finally got my system stable again, albeit without running the monitor. I tried the next most daring thing I could think of: going to the display settings. This enraged KDE so much that it decided to go into convulsions again. I restarted my computer hoping that would fix things. Nope, more convulsions. I tried using Catalyst, but that had no effect – literally – I couldn’t even add the new monitor. All in all, I basically tried restarting xserver/my computer a few times, and once the monitor seemed to work properly, I’d stop fiddling with it and accept my half-hearted victory.

Oh, and when I close my laptop the system assumes I’ve logged out, so I currently have the most useless dual monitor setup. Hopefully that’s easy to change.

So yeah, to hell KDE’s seduction.

Categories: God Damnit Linux, KDE, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

Well shit, that was easy

October 12th, 2009 1 comment

One of my big griefs with Mint was that the sound was far too quiet. I assumed this was some sort of hardware compatibility issue. Apparently it’s not and it’s really easy to fix. Essentially, the default “front speaker” volume is not at the max level. While this has given me a great max volume, my latest problem is getting Mint to increment/decrement the volume properly – the master volume is essentially muted at 70%. That being said, I’m glad I can finally watch online videos from my laptop without needing headphones or a soundproof room.

Categories: Hardware, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

Suriving September with The Linux

October 2nd, 2009 No comments

It’s been about a month now and my computer hasn’t melted down, so this is a good sign. Additionally, I haven’t been forced to drop out of any of my courses due to technical incompetence.

The Good

  • Linux Mint is fast as hell. Coming from a Windows background, I’m amazed at how quickly my computer boots up and shuts down. Installing programs is (usually) a breeze, and I rarely have to restart my computer against my will.
  • It looks very nice for an open-source OS, and there are a bunch of skins offered.
  • I’ve found open source alternatives to pretty much every program I used in Windows. OpenOffice.Org has effectively replaced MS Office, Pidgin matches MSN messenger, and Deluge works just as well as uTorrent.
  • Thanks to the easy-to-use installation manager, I can easily download and run new programs. I’ve been introduced to Opera (which is an excellent broswer, as it turns out) and Picasa. Although these run on Windows, the installation process involves more than “click four times”, and there’s no guarantee they’ll load as quickly as they do on Mint.
  • I finally understand this joke:
XKCD

LOL sudo

The Bad

  • My media experience has been sub-par at best. My sound only works at about half-capacity, which is fine when I’m hooked up to the speaker system in my room, but it’s frustrating when I have to use the laptop’s native speakers. This is especially annoying since a lot of websites (*cough*youtube) have a wildly inconsistent volume level in their videos, meaning going between two linked videos can be jarring. Video has also been an issue – the media players I’ve tried tend to get choppy whenever I have a menu in fullscreen. Moving the mouse while in fullscreen also briefly flashes my desktop wallpaper and returns to the video. Obviously there is room for improvement here.
  • The lockups I experienced were infuriating. I haven’t had any lately (knock on wood), but there are few worse feelings on a computer when you’re halfway through an assignment and a simple google search crashes your computer.
  • Mint doesn’t like coming out of hibernate or standy – apparently the kernel just shits the bed. I’ve been told this is an ATI bug that will be fixed in the next kernel upgrade, but I really needed this yesterday.
  • I still haven’t gotten my monitor working properly. The display manager crashes whenever I open it, and the ATI Catalyst Control Center isn’t co-operating. Ideally my monitor should be running at 1920×1080, but it’s stuck at 1600×900 for now.

The ohjesusgodWHYYYyyyyy

  • A few days ago I experienced a corrupted inode and my computer refused to update or install anything. This was obviously a pretty bad experience and it would’ve taken me hours to figure out what was going on if Tyler and Jake didn’t step in to save the day.

Overall I’m impressed with Mint so far. If it weren’t for the issues I’ve listed in “the bad”, I could see myself using it regularly.

Update: Okay what the hell Mint, I tried to say something nice about you and you go and crash as I’m publishing this post. I guess I’ll amend this infuriating bug.

Another infuriating bug:

  • For some reason, Mint will occasionally decide that my desktop is functioning too well. Out of spite, it will shift everything diagonally by N pixels, where N is some number randomly selected from {1,…,1836} (I have very little data to base this on, but I conjecture that this functions on a uniform distribution or the Cauchy distribution, just to be a bitch). Basically, it selects a new spot on my monitor to anchor the bottom left corner of the graphics. At the same time, it forces me to click where I would have clicked before. It looks something like this:
I tried to be nice, but you had to go and do this to me.

I tried to be nice, but you had to go and do this to me.

So yeah, there go you Mint. Way to ruin this post.

Categories: Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

The Linux and its ability to brick itself.

September 29th, 2009 1 comment

Over the weekend, I started a stats assignment that required me to use R. R runs in the terminal, but when you create plots, it brings up graphics. Normally in Windows, you can just copy the window and paste the new plot into whatever word processor you’re using. Linux Mint wasn’t letting me copy the plot – in fact, it wasn’t even letting me use alt-printscreen. Finally, I gave up and tried to install ksnapshot (I figured I could just screenshot a selected area). This is where my troubles began. Ksnapshot refused to install. Actually, everything refused to install. I restarted the computer and found this ridiculous scene on my desktop:

So many screenshots

So many screenshots

Seeing as I apparently had an abundance of screenshots, I gave up on ksnapshot and moved on with my life.

Today I tried to update my system through mintUpdate. Unfortunately, none of the updates went through. I called Tyler and Jake in and we tried installing something – anything – else. Nothing worked, and I kept getting this message in the console:

“dpkg failed in buffer read”

It turns out that Festival (the text-to-speech program) was completely ruining everything. We tried removing it through the terminal, but to no avail. We tried simply accessing it, but the system was having none of it. In the end, we had to go into recovery mode and do some weird file system stuff (I’ll have to ask Jake and Tyler on the details of what exactly it was I did). So far the system seems to be functioning again, but if Tyler and Jake weren’t around I’m sure I’d still be struggling to figure out what the hell was going on.

Categories: God Damnit Linux, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

These lockups are getting pretty annoying

September 20th, 2009 4 comments

This morning I was using Firefox with about a dozen tabs open when my computer locked up. It froze and was completely unresponsive – basically DOA. I decided to reboot the system, and everything was working fine until I reopened Firefox. It loaded my previous session, and the computer locked up again. After a second reboot, I opened Firefox and decided to start a new session and so far everything has been running smoothly.

I’m not sure why my system does this, but it’s getting pretty damn annoying. More importantly, the fact that these crashes are forcing me to reboot is really getting on my nerves. While I didn’t have anything important open, in the next few days I’m going to be using R through the terminal, and there’s a chance that a crash like this could lose me a significant amount of work, particularly since R doesn’t have a restore capability like my other programs.

I’m also hesitant to blame Firefox for what’s going on since this has also happened in Thunderbird and in Pidgin. Hopefully I can figure out what’s going on soon – Linux Mint has been pretty fantastic, and this has really put a damper on my experience. Is there any sort of error log I can look at? Ideally I want to be able to replicate the conditions before the crash to see if I can isolate any causes.

Categories: God Damnit Linux, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

New monitor woes

September 15th, 2009 No comments

So I’ve gone out and purchased myself a gorgeous LG Flatron W2243T. Unfortunately, getting it to work correctly has proven difficult so far. It’s connected to my computer through a DVI-to-HDMI cable. Now, adding a monitor to my Windows XP machine was fairly simple – all I had to do was plug it in, add it through display properties, and then I could futz around with it to my heart’s content. The task has proven more arduous on Mint.

Mint’s display manager really brought my system to its knees – as soon as I opened it, the computer slowed to a crawl and was basically unusable. Some of the information on the display manager was correct: there were two monitors (the laptop monitor and the new LG external monitor), and one was wider than the other; unfortunately, every other piece of information was “unknown”, and trying to change anything killed my system. After I rebooted, the monitor worked right from startup, which was a pleasant surprise, but that’s where the fun ended. I tried to get into my display manager again, but all it did was slow my system down and present me with a blank screen. I’ve tried going in through terminal and finding anything I could online, but I’m not sure what to do. Hopefully Jake can help me out when he gets home – otherwise I’m stuck with a mirrored dual monitor setup in a non-optimal resolution. Thankfully, my monitor and laptop share the same display ratio, so at least everything is in proportion.

Oh God How Did This Happen

Oh God How Did This Happen

OpenOffice.org needs snappier application names

September 13th, 2009 1 comment

Seriously, the names in OpenOffice.org are pretty bland – “Spreadsheet”, “Word Processor”, “Presentation”, etc. However, that’s pretty much the only fault I could find so far.

Word Processor

Earlier today I was visiting my family. My brother wanted to write a resume, but being completely new to the working world, he obviously needed some help. By complete coincidence, my parents didn’t feel like paying for Microsoft Office, so he has to use OpenOffice.The word processor is very intuitive and works just as well as Word. The only two difficulties I encountered were bullet formatting, which involved some guesswork with the horizontal rulers, and table formatting, which I’ll elucidate now.

Despite the fact that every company demands unformatted text resumes submitted online, I still like to make my resumes reasonably attractive in case I need a hard copy – this means screwing with tables, cells, and line colours and thicknesses. In MS Word, there’s a handy table toolbar with some drawing tools – namely the pencil, eraser, and the paintbrush. These tools allow users to select and manipulate individual line segments. OpenOffice’s Word Processor lacks this feature, and instead users have to select cells (individually or in groups) and and manipulate them. This is just as effective as MS Word, but a fair bit more cumbersome.

Overall, the resume turned out nicely and I only spent about five minutes troubleshooting the cell borders.

Spreadsheet

I mainly use spreadsheets to track my workouts and schedules. I found OO.o’s spreadsheet very easy to use and I transitioned from Excel seamlessly. It easily imported my old workout XLS files and doesn’t seem to have had any problems. In addition, the formatting worked as desired and took no extra time. OO.o’s macros worked as expected and definitely added some time-saving convenience.

Categories: Free Software, Sasha D Tags:

Day Five, Still Alive

September 8th, 2009 No comments

Just checking in to say so far so good!

Actually I have quite a bit more to say than that. As you all know, I’ve installed Linux Mint, which is basically Linux for Morons. The install was extremely easy and the operating system often works well. Why only “often”? Well, let me put it this way: when Linux works, goddamn does it work well; when it doesn’t, prepare to spend several hours trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

Major issues

Linux Mint seems to have a big problem with going into Stanby or Hibernate mode. Basically, reloading the computer to its previous state crashes everything. I believe Tyler told me that it crashes the kernel, and that this is most likely related to my ATI drivers. Hopefully the next kernel patch fixes this. Additionally, my system has locked up several times once booted. I’m not sure what causes this, but it’s happened in Firefox several times, once in Thunderbird, and once in Pidgin. Basically, clicking on a program would crash it. I have since uninstalled several Firefox add-ons – I suspect that FoxyTunes may have been the culprit, but I’m not sure. If I were a decent computer user, I would have removed them one at a time to see what was wrong. That being said, I was in a rush to identify a car part, so I had other priorities at the time.

Minor issues

I’m still having a problem with parts of the screen going black. It doesn’t appear in screenshots, so I’m guessing this is also a driver issue. The video players available really leave a lot to be desired. The main problems are noticeably poorer video when in fullscreen with an interface visible, and that switching between full screen and windowed mode is clumsy and looks like the computer just vomited. I’ve also noticed that the sound on this laptop is significantly quieter than on any of my other machines. When Tyler upgraded his kernel, his sound came back in full force.

Hopefully these issues will be resolved with the new kernel.

Current software

I’ve given up on aMSN and tried out Pidgin, which is a pretty fantastic piece of software. My only complaint is that it doesn’t support webcam, although I’ve been told that that will be coming soon. It also gives me the stupid little plug-ins I so desperately crave, such as virtual dice, 8-balls, and a test-to-speech reader that indulges my juvenile sense of humour. I’ve successfully installed R for statistical analysis, and it was really rather painless once I realized that it’s a terminal program even in Windows (durrr oops). Installing packages and libraries is much easier through Linux than it was on Windows too, but I guess this makes sense since it’s a GNU project. I’ve also started using SongBird instead of RhythmBox, but so far I’ve found that it doesn’t support my keyboard commands. It does, however, support FoxyTunes, which is as frustrating as it is promising because this might be crashing Firefox.

I’ve found that CRON-o-Meter is a suitable calorie counter, although it took a stupid amount of work and a clever script to get going. Creating desktop icons is also extremely easy, if a bit counter-intuitive- just right click the shortcut, click properties, and left-click the icon in the new window.

It also turns out that I’m only running Firefox 3.0, and I can only use Firefox 3.5 as Shiretoko (the development name), which is pretty damn annoying. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much the same thing as Firefox, just with a different logo.

To-do list

My next two projects are to get my computer to read the network (this is probably Jon’s fault) and to get a rotating wallpaper. Look, I just got a 900p monitor, and it’s about damn time that I had some pretty pictures to look at!

I’m also trying to set up some programs (Thunderbird and SongBird primarily) to always minimize to the tray through AllTray.

Screenshots

The blackening issue

The blackening issue

Categories: God Damnit Linux, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

Linux Mint

September 3rd, 2009 1 comment

I picked a distribution at random, and Linux Mint turned out to be a pretty good choice for someone like me – ie, completely incompetent with electronics.

Installation

The installation was actually really quick, easy, and painless. It consisted of a few clicks, a few passwords, and that was about it really. Almost everything I needed was installed from the beginning, and installing programs, drivers, etc, turned out to be very simple thanks to the assorted managers. The main issue I’ve run into is compatilibility – right now I’m struggling to figure out how to get EnigMail to work in Thunderbird (the program claims that it is not supported for 64-bit Linux) – [resolved while typing this post].

Software

So far, most of the software I use is open source (Firefox, Thunderbird, R) or already has an open source alternative (Open Office). However, this doesn’t mean that the alternatives are solid replacements for their proprietary inspirations. Take Windows Live Messenger and the Plus! extension. While aMSN gets the job done and has webcam support, it doesn’t offer creature comforts like floating desktop contacts, merged consecutive messages, or support for games with Windows Live contacts. I also completely forgot that most fonts are proprietary – my beloved Georgia is gone!

One of the more annoying things is that I can’t figure out how the hell to access R. Unlike my other programs, I had to install this through the terminal, and it doesn’t appear in my list of applications. Installing it always confused me even when I used it in Windows, so I’ll probably have to work at it a bit before I get anywhere.

My main gripe with all of this free software is that, frankly, it looks like crap. Every program seems dull and grey, and if you want to change it, you need to go and get a plug-in. I’m currently running Mint with the Max OS X theme because I couldn’t stand how everything looked. I tried the Vista theme, but it just wasn’t working, so I gave up, whored out, and went crawling to Apple (sort of, anyway). As I mentioned before, a lot of the applications are missing creature comforts – stuff like having the play/pause key be the same in RhythmBox, or having those stupid little taglines in Windows Live Messenger. In no way do I require these features, but it’s little things like this that keep a user interested in a product. We’re all quite easily distracted by blinkenlights.

Installing and  updating software was extremely easy. I went into the either mintInstall, mintUpdate, or the package manger and got what I needed. I used the package manager to install R, but found that it didn’t have the latest version, so unfortunately I had to install it through the terminal.

Media

Linux Mint came with several media players and codecs installed, and they all worked very well. Unfortunately, my two preferred video players (The Core Media Player and Media Player Classic) don’t have Linux versions. The default players are decent enough and I’m definitely familiar with VLC, but my videos seem to run slowly when they’re in windowed mode. It’s not choppy by any means, but there’s a noticeable difference between full-screen and windowed mode. Switching between full-screen and windowed mode did have an odd issue – when going between them, my machine would briefly flash the desktop at me. Seeing as this is Linux, though, I think the most important thing to mention is that my videos worked, and they worked on the first try.

In my opinion, RhythmBox is about as easy to use as iTunes, with the added feature that when I add songs, the program actually adds their names properly.

Hardware

My external hard drive worked perfectly – the OS instantly recognized it and I could use it to my heart’s content. Similarly, when I popped in my SD card, it appeared on my desktop and I could view everything. The webcam works as desired, and the effects available are far more impressive than the crap Dell offers. Linux Mint lets you throw in “filters”, if you will, and you can combine them. For example, you can blur motion and have the room move (as if you were dizzy), creating an excellent inebriation simulator. Dell’s default (and Vista’s too I guess) simply superimposes a cheesey image reminiscent of clipart so you look like you’re in a spaceship or some dumb shit like that. Overall, I’m very impressed with what I can do, especially after hearing Jake and Jon curse for several days about trivial issues like getting the mouse to work.

On a negative note, the OS seems to have trouble finding my monitor. Whenever I try to detect it, the system slows down significantly and never seems to get anywhere. I’m not sure if this is because it needs an updated driver and it’s not working correctly, or if this is standard for a first-time installation.

Other issues

Linux seems to be fond of flashing me. When I switch between full-screen and windowed mode in any of my media players, it briefly flashes the desktop at me and then works as desired. Occasionally the bottom part of my browser goes black for a short period of time. And the jelly windows, while fantastic in their novelty, have a minor issue where the borders look grainy while I’m jiggling them. Yes, I’m a superficial consumer whore.

I’ve also had to endure a few slowdowns at seemingly random intervals. I’m not sure what causes them, but it’s probably one of my useless Firefox widgets.

Overall

All in all my experience with Linux Mint has been positive. I don’t think I’ll stick with Linux for too long (meaning I’ll end up with Vista soon), but so far Mint has impressed me. At the very least, I’ll almost certainly have Linux Mint on my computer for a VM. I’m impressed with how easy and intuitive the system has been for me – while I’ve had experience with computers and different operating systems, I’m still a newbie at most computer-related tasks, so being able to survive the installation and configuration of Mint and coming out relatively unscathed has been a major boon.

Categories: Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

Good news on the laptop front

September 1st, 2009 No comments

I’ve gotten word that my laptop will be arriving at my parents’ house tomorrow, meaning that I’ll probably have it by tomorrow evening.

Categories: God Damnit Dell, Sasha D Tags: