Nicolas314

All my geeky stuff ends up here. Mostly Unix-related

Posts Tagged ‘ubuntu

Upgrade disease strikes again

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Booted my laptop this morning to be greeted by a silent upgrade of Firefox and Thunderbird simultaneously on Windows — silent in that case meaning less modal windows and many popups all over. Whatever. The only improvement I could see was that clicking on links in Thunderbird failed to open a page in Firefox. Spending time in Thunderbird options, I found how to open links in Chrome but Firefox never responded.

Took me a while to figure it out so just in case: you can bring it back to normal by setting IE as your default browser and setting it back to Firefox. “Open link in browser” should now work again on Thunderbird. This almost got me to tip over to Chrome. Probably for the next FF/TB update.

Next: I wanted to change my BlackBerry ID. Simple enough: you log onto your BlackBerry account on the RIM web site, declare a new email address, click on the links you receive by email, done. But not so much on your BlackBerry device: no matter what you type in the login window it is modified back to your previous ID and login fails with a weird 5-digit error. A bit of search on the BlackBerry forums brought no better than wiping the device and re-installing from scratch. Sure, why not? Prepare the yaks!

Procedure goes like this:

  • Download 117 megs of BlackBerry desktop software, install, reboot
  • Download newer device firmware (cool, an upgrade!): 100 more megs, install,
    reboot
  • Plug in BlackBerry device, type password twice (on device and on
    screen), wait.
  • Desktop software tells you “Backing up device”
  • Desktop software tells you “Upgrading OS” and “Wiping device”
  • Desktop software tells you “Oops, I lost your backup. Good luck, sucker!”

Re-installing everything from scratch including enterprise activation took a while and eroded my nerves a bit, but my BlackBerry is almost functional now. Note to self: never change email ever again.

Back home: my son boots up his Ubuntu desktop, gets a full-screen window advertizing the latest and greatest Ubuntu 12.04 Persuasive Pedobear, clicks “Upgrade”, and watches as his desktops slowly dives into hell. After a couple of hours of intensive disk thrashing, the poor desktop fails to shutdown, forcing a manual reboot. The bootsplash consists of a large smear of dirty purple and ends up in a wrong resolution. On a 22″ screen I can only see the rightmost part so no menus, no dock, no joy. Switch to manual install:

  • Time to backup his home directory: 2 hours
  • Time to download/prepare a USB install: 15 minutes
  • Time to boot and install Ubuntu from USB: 2 hours
  • Time to restore his home directory: 2 hours

I could have avoided the backup/restore phase. I only have myself to blame for not partitioning his disk with separate root and home during the last install. Almost forgot to mention: the screen is still garbled after a clean manual install. Apparently a bug with NVidia cards attached to 16/9 screens, a configuration I believe quite common nowadays among Ubuntu users. How could they miss this in QA is beyond me. I ended up generating a new xorg.conf with the nvidia-settings tool, which is bugged beyond hope but at least will create a working config. The login screen is still messed up but activate auto-login and it quickly switches to a decent resolution on its own.

To be honest: I tried dist-upgrade for every single Ubuntu release since Ubuntu exists and never succeeded so far, either through GUI or command-line. Never worked on desktops, laptops, virtual machines, you name it. But maybe I was just unlucky. And every time I wonder: why TF do I keep trying?

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Written by nicolas314

Thursday 10 May 2012 at 7:35 pm

iPod on Ubuntu

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The iPod apparently just turned 10 today. Happy birthday iPod!

As it happens, both my kids have an iPod now, together with a docking station that enables them to listen to all of their music whenever they have a chance. Living in the future is fun! I have fond memories of piling up cassettes containing copies of the greatest albums ever, gathered here and there from friends. Blank tapes were quite expensive so we bought them in Germany where they did not levy the copy tax. I owned maybe 100 tapes in total, maybe 150 albums, the equivalent of a half-Gb today. My sons have each 32 times this on a device that fits their small pockets, without talking about the huge difference in terms of sound quality.

Anyway, my 14-year old has a desktop PC running Ubuntu and I wanted him to be completely independent with his iPod. Turns out he cannot.

Plugging the iPod into Ubuntu works fine: a popup indicates you have plugged a music device, the icon even looks like an iPod, and if you click away you end up starting Banshee or Rhythmbox or whatever you chose to handle music on that desktop.

Things start getting ugly when you add music to the device. Files are transferred and definitely stored there but the iPod does not recognize any of it as music, only “unknown data”. I tried re-formatting the device from scratch on Ubuntu but it failed. I had to re-format it twice again after that: first time on a Mac, which created a Mac filesystem on the iPod that was not recognized on Ubuntu (fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu), and then on a Windows PC running iTunes to re-generate a Windows filesystem Ubuntu can work with.

Still no love. Whatever I put on the iPod is only visible to Ubuntu. I tried Banshee, Rhythmbox and a couple others to no avail. Back to square one.

I know there must be solutions out there: re-format the iPods with a Linux firmware or help the guys reverse-engineer the latest iPod filesystems for open-source support, but I am just tired with this. I just wanted my son to be independent with his music and ended up spending a whole evening just messing around, piling up experiments and wasting my time Googling my way around.

There is no technical reason why things should be this way. This completely artificial lock-in into iTunes is just ridiculous. I do not know yet which portable music player I will purchase next but something tells me it won’t be from Apple.

Written by nicolas314

Monday 24 October 2011 at 11:06 pm

Posted in ipod, Ubuntu

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Hasta la Vista

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With all the fuss going on about Vista when it was released, I knew I had to lay my hands on a working copy sooner or later and check it out by myself. I bought a new PC at the end of 2006, it came with pre-installed Vista and I decided to leave it there and give it a try. Let me add that I run several Debian flavours at home and this is the only Windows partition that I have, so take this as an experiment to see how far Microsoft has gone today. Now I know.

First boot: the machine takes about 10-15 minutes to get up to speed, compiling tons of documentation, finishing installation of a zillion drivers and indexing the (empty) disk several times. The User Interface is beautiful as promised, but the hard disk is thrashing like crazy and it is hard to concentrate with this pop-corn machine noise buzzing around. I wait another half-hour maybe and the disk is still intensely working something with no indication whatsoever of what is going on. Jeez, this is a dual-core 2GHz machine with 1Gb RAM and a SATA disk, what in hell is it doing full-time? I have not even touched the keyboard yet! Being patient, I decided to turn to something else and leave the machine alone for the next 4 hours and come back when it is ready.

4 hours later: no luck. The disk is still a pop-corn machine and CPU is at all-times high. Time to install Firefox and google out what needs to be done before the disk is dead. I deactivate a number of “essential” services like file indexing, pre-fetching, automatic configuration for hardware I do not have, to no avail. It took me several evenings of research to finally reduce disk activity to something acceptable. This did not last long: with every new security update comes new software and system configuration and the disk is gone into pop-corn mode again. After fighting several times to try to keep the situation in hand, I finally gave up and had to accept that any of my ventures into Vista mode on this PC would seriously reduce the disk lifespan.

Pre-fetch is a particularly interesting feature. The OS knows your computer usage better than you would, so before you even touch anything it decided that you will soon need a web browser, a text editor, an image and PDF viewer, a media player, and so on. Net result: the first 5 minutes after booting, the machine is totally useless for the user. In order to make my life simpler, the OS is actually preventing me from using the machine at all. Needless to say, this is extremely frustrating and the incredibly long boot times it leads to have kept me away from using Vista altogether for extended periods of time.

Next topic: the infamous security warnings. You click on a button and another window pops up, darkening out the rest of the screen and stealing focus to ask you something utterly stupid like: “You clicked on a button, do you confirm? Confirm/Cancel”. I do not really see the point of bringing up a popup window to tell me that I just clicked on a button. Double-clicking most application icons also prompts these infamous warnings which become old after a few minutes. I found a dozen HOWTOs explaining how to deactivate them but for some reason none of them worked on my setup. I just gave up and learned to click repeatedly for every launched app.

What seems really weird is that you also get warning popups when you try to launch stuff from the configuration panel. Vista warns you that the program you are trying to launch is potentially harmful. Well… it is a configuration panel after all so yes, I may harm my current settings by trying to actually change them. Why do I need to get a reminder for every double-click? For such basic things as a configuration panel, it really makes you feel the OS is just not in charge and transfers all responsibility to the user without providing any useful information as to how I could decide that the last action I performed would be harmful or not.

What bothers me most with these popups is the utter futility of showing a message on screen asking you, the god-like user, to grant an authorization to a piece of software you have no information about, except for a name. What do you do when a popup tells you a program called “Java” needs to start? How much information do I have to really assess the potential danger for this application? As a user sitting in front of the (beautiful) screen, I have almost no information at all about what could or could not cause harm to the OS. I thought this was the OS’s job to protect itself, why does Vista outsource this to an ignorant user, not even providing any information past the program name?

Next issue I have had with Vista is the graphical engine instability. My card is a simple low-end NVIDIA series 7, the driver got updated at least once a week during all of 2007. The screen would spontaneously go blank regularly without warning, and everything would come back to “normal” once the graphical subsystem had rebooted. If you count killing all running apps as “normal” behaviour, that is. One solution was to deactivate all graphical effects to lower the load on the GPU, which was getting too hot anyway just moving simple windows around. Eye-candy has an effect on my electricity bill.

I could go on and on rambling about how poorly this OS has performed for me. I really wanted to believe in it and give it a second chance by waiting long enough for it to stabilize, but after one and a half year I just could not take it anymore.

Next experiment: wipe out Vista from disk and install XP. The difference is really stunning. Boot times go down from 5 actual minutes to 32 seconds, the windows are literally flying on screen, application startup times are almost negligible, and overall system stability just cannot be compared. On Vista I would tell the kids they could play games until the machine crashed and I was sure they never played longer than an hour. On XP I have to set an alarm clock to limit their playing time, because so far it has not crashed once during a game.

I never used Vista for anything else than games and web-browsing, but I cannot imagine spending my day at work with such a disaster. This might be the poorest attempt I have ever seen at an OS. Somehow, it makes me feel that the infamous security popups and the pre-fetch “features” are typical of a tech team gone too far in trying to offer never-seen-before features and ending up with a complete reversal of what an OS is actually about. It tells me a lot about how much contempt these guys have for their users. By sizing everything up for the most stupid computer user, you may end up with the most stupid OS behaviour there is.

I have also been running Ubuntu for 18 months on the same machine without a single glitch, but I am of course severely biased. Still, the difference in OS efficiency on the very same hardware tells a lot more than any benchmark you may read on the Net.

Written by nicolas314

Wednesday 11 June 2008 at 1:26 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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