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March 4, 2004

Home system upgrade!

I'm posting this from my newly-upgraded PC! Pentium 4, two Gb memory and lots of complicated specifications in the motherboard so it must be good. I haven't put the new system through its paces yet, but will undoubtedly find some way or other to slow it down.
Because I run linux (SuSE 9.0), configuration is not entirely without problems. I've got the ethernet card (onboard) working after a few tries, but the sound (also onboard) is still giving me trouble. I had managed to get it to work by using the config tools as root, clearing out all the previous installations and failed attempts, re-doing the auto-probe and then double-checking in XMMS, first as root, then as my regular username. That worked like a charm, but after a re-start (as part of my latest attempt to get the ethernet card to work) the sound card and XMMS are once again not talking to one another. Can any of you linuxy types among the readership help me out with this?

March 7, 2004

Config problems mostly solved

Update to my post on the configuration problems with my new machine: I have sound. I had some problems with the sound quality in XMMS, but that is probably just a case of XMMS not liking some sound cards. When I play the same music files in Kafeine, all is well (although Kafeine's interface is not so nice for managing sound files).
I have tried to configure a cheap scanner I got from my aunt, but no luck with that just yet. It should work, it's in the compatibility lists as a fully supported scanner, but somehow it doesn't.

March 28, 2004

FTP client for linux?

I do most of my heavy-duty ftp work in the studio, in Windows. Today, I had to upload the comics from home though, and once again I noticed how much more slowly I work with the command line ftp client than I do with WinFTP LE. I've worked with command line ftp since 1992, but I'm still more productive if I can use a graphical client.
Problem is, I've never found a linux client that is

  1. easy to install (I'm willing to compile from source but don't want to have to do a lot of troubleshooting if a compile fails);
  2. stable; and
  3. as intuitive to use as WinFTP LE (which I don't think has been updated since 2001, and whose usability was stripped down compared to the commercial version even then. I don't think that's too much to ask

KBear, an ftp client that works on KDE, meets the third requirement, but fails the first two in my experience. Filerunner, suggested to me by a computer geek friend, failed the third by a very large margin. What alternatives do I have?

April 29, 2004

MP3/Ogg playing software?

I've decided I really don't look like using Kafeine to play my MP3s. The interface is just too clunky and wasteful. To be fair, it's not a sound player but a movie player that can handle MP3 and Ogg files.
As you may remember, I had to switch from the otherwise wonderful XMMS because it just wouldn't cooperate with the sound card on my new system no matter what sound plugin I used. But having used Kafeine for a while, it annoys me that this program doesn't automatically store playlists like XMMS does, it always defaults to my home dir when I try to add files or directories to my playlist instead of remembering the last used directory like XMMS does, takes about 3 times as much space as XMMS does, it takes me back to the wrong window after altering the playlist and give me error messages that I neither understand nor need to know (for instance when adding a directory that also has a playlist in it, it tells me it can't add the playlist file to the playlist, instead of silently ignoring that file like XMMS does).
Any tips for another program that I might use? As you can tell, I'd prefer something like XMMS, a Winamp-skinnable piece of loveliness. But anything that isn't as clunky will do. Unlike my quest for the perfect linux ftp client, I'm willing to do quite extensive configuration to get it right, *if* I can trust the app to be the right one for me, because I will use it a lot if it is. And while I'd prefer a Winamp clone, I'm willing to put up with a console-based program because I won't have to look at it all the time.

July 4, 2004

"Compile", they said, "Compile! It's easy and you'll enjoy it!"

I'm trying to get autotrace installed on the linux system. My aim is to keep it symmetrical with the Windows system at the studio, which now has autotrace, potrace to vectorize scanned images, delineate to serve as a GUI for both, and the latest Java Runtime environment to make delineate work. It's all part of my attempts to learn vector art.
On windows, the only thing that gave me any pain was that the makers of delineate vastly overestimated Windows XP's intelligence in the field of reading its own file paths. The only way to get the JRE to work was to set the environment variable like this: C:\progra~1\java\jre.whateveritwas, and replace all forward slashes in the delineate.bat file with backslashes. It was an annoyance but I know Windows' quirks well enough to solve it myself. It's working nicely now, and it was worth it to be able to turn PNG images into SVG without too much fuss and with previews and buttons and all that stuff.
With autotrace on linux though, there's only one Red Hat 7.2 binary file available that might not be suitable for my SuSE 9.0 system at all. So I decided "OK, I'll get the source and compile. People always tell me it's easy, right?" -- blocking out the nightmare scenario that invariably takes place when I actually try this in the real world. You see, compiling programs on linux is pretty easy, if, and only if:

  1. You do it regularly so you don't forget the ritual;
  2. You know your system inside out so you can recognise and troubleshoot problems that may occur.
  3. You succesfully keep your system up to date so you don't get any library dependency problems;

In other words, it's easy for a professional system administrator or a dedicated computer geek. For the rest of us, it gets complicated pretty quickly.

Continue reading ""Compile", they said, "Compile! It's easy and you'll enjoy it!"" »

July 5, 2004

Autotrace update

unvectorised Kel portrait cast-kel.png

I've got autotrace installed and am running delineate now. I'd like to thank Aric Campling of Hosers. To be honest, though, I eventually located a precompiled version of autotrace on SuSE's ftp servers and took the way of least resistance from there.

I've been playing with delineate and inkscape both at home and at the studio. I've got some really interesting effects out of vectorisation, especially when vectorising large, complex images, and I'm learning what the programs can and cannot do. The image on the left is a portrait of Kel from the Cast page. The one on the right is a vectorised version, re-exported to PNG with only minor changes from the SVG file. The SVG file is here. It's only 12 paths, unlike the monstrosities I created at the studio. See if you can read, manipulate and validate it!

May 4, 2005

What I learned today

Qtorrent reguires PyQT requires qscintilla requires sip requires python-devel requires python. If your existing python version is too low, the dependency chain will break and you will not be able to download "Dalek". This will lead to unholy swearing and general unhappiness, especially after earlier attempts using Gnutella also failed*).
There are solutions for this problem, but they don't work.**)
As for the official bittorrent client, the instructions for it refer to a setup file that does not appear to be included in the package. How did this system become so popular, again?

Continue reading "What I learned today" »

May 5, 2005

What I learned today (2)

  1. Azureus is a bittorrent client that works on my home system. It does not, thankfully, appear to use Python anywhere.
  2. The first thing it prompts you for in the configuration is where to put the torrent, not the downloaded file as I thought. Use the default directory offered for that.
  3. The directory it prompts you for after starting a torrent is the place where it will put your downloaded file. Do not use the default directory offered for that.
  4. Contrary to this user's expectation, the XVid codec for linux will compile without plunging the hapless user into Library Trouble, and will even allow itself to be installed. The instructions for what to do next are gobbledygook, but I've managed to try a few things involving the Totem media player before my computer hung.
  5. If your computer hangs, you may have trouble finding the downloaded file.
  6. It is very easy to waste time on this crap, but I still don't understand how, given all the hurdles involved, file sharing has become so popular. As far as I can tell, it is a huge hassle of the sort that no sane, non-obsessed person should have any patience for.
  7. I have no idea how to tell any of the media players on my system how to use the XVid libraries (that's the part of the XVid instructions that were gobbledygook). I tried adding a symlink to the library to the Totem plugins folder, but that didn't do a thing. I also feel that I need better media software than Kaffeine, Totem and (gak) Real Player, but the last time I tried to install any, I ran into Library Hell. Answers on a postcard to reinder@despammed.com.
  8. Ditto with the DivX codec, or indeed, come to think of it, anything other codec I've tried to get to work since 2003.

Below the cut, I'll mention some specifics and go through some of my reader mail:

Continue reading "What I learned today (2)" »

May 8, 2005

Again with the tech blegging

Getting closer to a solution for playing media files on the home computer, but not quite there. Ignore this if tech talk bores you.

Continue reading "Again with the tech blegging" »

April 13, 2006

Update to the previous

After reading up on the mouse problem early this afternoon, I concluded that a clean reinstall was my best bet, so after backing up my remaining files (tip: K3b is useless if you don't have a mouse, but the CD burning software within the Gnome file manager Nautilus is accessible), I did that. Unfortunately, I mistook having planned to back up my email and profiles for actually having backed them up, so I lost a lot of email and passwords. Not that I expect to miss it much, but if I don't respond to that urgent message you sent me yesterday, this is why.
The clean install did solve a lot. I now have two working mice, Internet and a scanner. Kopete, the messaging client, works properly for the first time in a year. Oh, and I can finally watch Xvid videos in Kaffeine, something that eluded me for years. Not that that worked out of the box, mind you, but I could compile everything I needed from source because I had a clean system with lots of development software already installed, and good, detailed instructions.
The only thing I haven't got to work yet is the TV card. So it's likely that I'll be watching Doctor Who on torrented Xvid files again.

February 21, 2007

Quick links for Wednesday

Children's literature is full of scrotums! (Via Neil Gaiman)

Matt Taibbi: Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires:

While America obsessed about Brittany's shaved head, Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid.

MediaFork is a new media-ripper derived from HandBrake, whose development had stalled recently. Works on OSX and linux (linux version Command Line only). I couldn't get the source code to build, but the binary version worked swimmingly. So far, I've done all my DVD ripping with MPlayer, but you can never have enough tools... and this one seems to be a little smarter than MPlayer at finding the correct audio channels automagically.

Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise. Reminded me of this Majikthise post from a month or so ago. Remind me to be nice to a homeless person some time.

The man responsible for putting my old band's music on Sellaband and adding old photos showing me in the band also regularly sends me interesting music links, so I can almost forgive him. Today, he sent me a link to Dalek I, an obscure early synth duo. I didn't care much for this sort of thing when I was actually living through the synth pop era, but a lot of it sounds rather good to me now.

October 19, 2007

Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) first impressions

I'm typing this in a freshly downloaded version of Opera running on the LiveCD version of Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu, release no. 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, on my home machine.

That's the good news, in many ways. I've always liked having LiveCD distros around because they're very useful for testing stuff, staying abreast of the state of linux technology without having to risk buggering up your computer, and as rescue systems with which to access your computer after you've buggered it up. But in my experience, the actual performance of LiveCD distros has often left a lot to be desired. Some of them haven't worked at all; some others worked on one machine but not another. None of them could ever connect to the Internet on my home machine. Not one. Until this one. That's a big step ahead, because it makes the things I want to do with it (testing software and troubleshooting my main installation when it isn't working) that much easier.

Scanning and sound all work, which is great, and the OS is even dimly aware of my TV card, though I didn't get around to configuring it and finally getting some TV signal out of it. It correctly guessed the size of my display, though it did smoosh the desktop picture horizontally a bit, another thing I didn't get round to fixing, because software-based display configuration didn't work and I can never remember what happens after I adjust the screen itself - whether it automatically resets itself whenever I boot into a new system or if it keeps the new settings between OSes - so I didn't.

A lot of other things, however, haven't got that much easier, and some of the supposedly easy things don't work. For example, Amarok currently plays any music file I ask it to, as long as it's an Ogg Vorbis file. No worries, most of my music is in Ogg anyway, and besides, the first time it encountered an mp3 file, it prompted me to download the MP3 support libraries. Lovely, except that after downloading and installing said libraries and prompting me to restart the application, it still doesn't play MP3 files, and prompts me again to install the MP3 support.

The idea is nice though, and I'd have liked a similar feature (except functional, ha ha) for the movie player, which plays even fewer codec formats out of the box than SuSE does. Open source zealotry has its advantages, but it's disastrous for linux as a multimedia platform. This is one thing Knoppix definitely does better.

Likewise, the new software package management front-end, Adept, makes software installation as easy as falling off a log, and every bit as pointless. On my first try, it reported completing the installation of all the newnew softwarem then proceeded not to show the new apps anywhere at all. Strangely, when I had another go, it did install Firefox but still didn't show me the apps I'd installed in my first attempt. Something strange is going on here. Luckily the Debian installer clearly works, so Opera got running on the first try and a whole list of possible causes could be ruled out.

Adept, by the way, is fairly slow. I'm guessing this is because what it does is download the source code and its dependent libraries, then compiles it behind the user's back, thus rendering moot the distinction between source and binary installation. But I can't be sure, because it doesn't give a whole lot of feedback on what it's doing.

The same problem of non-install installs may or may not apply to the desktop eye-candy that was promised- it may simply be that my hardware doesn't support it, or it may be that the nVidia driver only claims to have been installed without actually running in any meaningful sense, or ... well, whatever it is, it'll take some time to find out. It doesn't take a lot of trouble to tell me the reason, anyway.

And that brings me to the biggest problem. I recall that previous versions of Ubuntu had an obvious way to save any changes I made to it between sessions. Or was I thinking of Knoppix? Anyway, that way, I could at least build on what I already knew, in the knowledge that whenever I called it quits and switched off, the work wouldn't be lost. So what if installing software and configuring system functions was a bit more complicated than promised? I wouldn't have to do it often, and I'd learn stuff on the way. But I'm not going to dig into the bowels of my OS if my changes are going to be wiped out anyway.

When it comes to actually using the OS, getting online, playing music, accessing the drives, etcetera, Kubuntu 7.10 does seem to be running smoothly enough. and what is actually on the CD is easy to use. The System control panel should be instantly familiar to OS X users, and there's potentially nifty stuff in there like preconfigured zeroconf networking (useless to me right now but I'm thinking of building a home network). Kubuntu is also backed up by speedy bug reporting from the community, and has a nifty, immediate approach to allowing users to contribute to internationalisation, which I want to investigate further. At the very least I'll try it out again to familiarise myself with its workings, and maybe I'll look into installing it on a separate partition once I'm sure it doesn't brutally overwrite my current bootloader. In short, not quite there, for my purposes, but closer than the last version I tried.

October 29, 2007

This should help me bring the productivity back up

I haven't had much time to go to the studio, but with this:

Photoshop%20under%20wine2.png
Photoshop 7 running under Wine in (K)Ubuntu 7.10. Click to enlarge

...I should be able to do more of my work at home.

So far, I've only had one problem to solve: Photoshop needs the Microsoft core fonts, otherwise the Text tool doesn't work, even if you don't want to use any of those fonts with the Text tool (also, it doesn't know how to display its menus, but that's not all that serious). Once I'd figured out that that was the problem, it was trivially easy to solve (which I did with these two-year-old instructions). I've stress-tested PS with the Liquefy filter on a large image, and while it didn't like to have to do that, it completed the filter eventually, without crashing.
Also, Save For Web is a little bit quirky when you try to save as PNG (the entry field for entering the number of colours doesn't work too well) and scanning directly into Photoshop doesn't work, though there may be a way to make it. It's a luxury anyway, as I can scan through other applications.
And that's about it. PS 7 has Platinum status at Wine HQ which means that it's supposed to work almost exactly as well as it does under Windows, and as far as I can tell, this is justified. PS 7 is positively ancient, but in this case, that's an advantage. It's got all I need, anyway.

Of course, with my newly reinstalled linux system (and I'm really liking Ubuntu a little better every day), I'm also keeping an eye on GIMP. Version 2.4 has been released and looks very capable. Its interface is still scary but I'm used to it. I do wonder what happened to the internationalisation in it, as I can't find the Dutch-language UI files for it anywhere. It's about the only part of Ubuntu 7.10 that hasn't been properly internationalised. GIMP Internationalisation used to work on my SuSE system. Also, I found a Save for Web plugin for it but it refuses to compile and build.

My plan is to finish my current projects in PS one way or another, but try a new, small project in GIMP at some point, to get back into practice and see how well it's been developed over the past few years.

November 10, 2007

Kubuntu Gutsy Gibbon: Second impressions, plus some stuff about Amarok

Since posting my first impressions of Kubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, I've warmed to it quite a bit. It's become my main OS now, though not exactly by choice: I was shooting to multi-boot between it and SuSE 10.0, but once I'd installed Kubuntu, the boot loader could no longer find my other boot setup and all I could do was boot Kubuntu, and that only after some tweaking that I'll spare you the details of because it's not something that will apply to many other people.

However, I'm not too bothered by losing my SuSE because for the most part, Kubuntu is working pretty well for me.

What works: all the things I reported the other day, plus mp3 and mp4 support, tablet sensitivity support, wine (running Photoshop 7, Art Rage and Creature House Expression), DVD and DivX/Xvid, TV card (except sound, for which I will have to open the case to reconnect some things). The smooshiness in the screen resolution went away after a re-prod.

What doesn't work: Azureus crashes (but it's not the only bittorrent client in town). Tablet sensitivity under wine - I'll keep an eye on developments in that regard. Paint Shop Pro 8 and Painter Classic under Wine. There are some more minor issues with Photoshop under wine that I should contact winehq about, but nothing that renders it unusable. Opera is a bit unstable on this system, but that may end when there's a Gutsy-specific release. Aaaaand... that's it, really. I'll add to this list if I can think of more stuff that's broken.

Jelena had already got her own copy of regular, gnome-based Ubuntu on LiveCD, and run it on her PC there. I couldn't get it to boot on the studio PC that's attached to the scanner, but my Kubuntu CD did work, and it got the correct sane driver for my Epson GT-12000 A3 scanner. For me, this is a big plus, because what we mainly use that machine for is scanning. For Jeroen and me, if we have the scanner, internet connection and Photoshop 7, that's all we need. Anything else that works is a bonus - except maybe the printer. I forgot to test that, but will do so some other time. Having Ubuntu around could end up saving us many hundreds, possibly thousands, of Euros in the not too distant future. Having said that, we're not installing it just yet. I would like to sort out the tablet issue affecting wine at home before doing that.

Back at home, something that had been puzzling me was a problem with the music player, Amarok. I'd copied some .m4a files from my iBook, including some that I had ripped myself from CD and some from iTunes Plus. They played well and Amarok could read the tags, except sometimes they didn't and Amarok didn't read the tags. I had spent some time searching for m4a problems in linux, and performed several tests with other players in order to isolate the problem, until I saw that one of the files in my playlist queue was only 83 bytes on disk. That gave me the clue I needed quite quickly: iTunes, in its infinite wisdom, still conforms to the old Mac convention of saving every file as two files: one large one containing all the stuff you need, and one very small one containing some metadata for the OS. If I remember correctly, this was introduced back in the day to facilitate file association with the programs to run the files, a feature that's commonplace now but was pretty novel back in the DOS era. These days, it's implemented very differently on most OSes.
Anyway, those extra files start with the "." (dot) character, which causes linux file managers to hide them from the user, but which doesn't cause Amarok to skip them when looking for music files to play. So whenever Amarok encounters a file called .artist_title.m4a, it tries to add it to the collection, and it will show up in your random playlist. Solution: Make sure you can see those files in Konqueror or Dolphin, and delete them as they don't do anything useful in linux.

The fact that Amarok can play m4a files does contribute to it being a better player overall than iTunes Player, because it can play just about any audio most people will care to throw at it, whereas iTunes doesn't play nice with Ogg Vorbis, the format that most of my music is in. Sure, there's a plugin to support it*) but it slows iTunes down noticeably, and metadata display for Ogg Vorbis is still broken. Plus Amarok's interface, while not as sleek as iTunes player, flows really well, can be customized more, and doesn't depend on slightly-less-evil-than-Real Quicktime to run.

*) Of course, the plugin aspect makes for a rather unfair comparison, because technically, every codec in Amarok works as a plugin - but most of them come with the system and even the ones you have to install - which is straightforward - will then work for all of your installed linux system. From a user point of view, it all works a lot more smoothly.

November 12, 2007

A warning about Opera in Ubuntu 7.10

If you use (K)Ubuntu linux 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, avoid using the new release of Opera web browser made especially for it. Based on my experiences, the combination poses a risk to your data and hardware.

One of the first things I did after installing Kubuntu on my system was to install Opera 9.24 - the version built for the previous release of Ubuntu, Feisty Fawn, because no Gutsy-specific version had been released yet. It turned out that this was one of the bigger disappointments in my use of Ubuntu, because it was terribly crash-prone. I left it out of my previous reports because it was an inappropriate release. But now that there is a Gutsy build, I'm afraid that it's much, much worse. Running that release of Opera, my entire system would freeze up after about 15 minutes of use, necessitating a hardware reset with the Reset button. At first I blamed the hardware until I realised that every time this happened, Opera had window focus. I avoided it for a while and the system stopped freezing up.

This isn't exacly a scientific way to determine the cause of a problem, and I'm trying very hard not to lay all of the blame at Opera Software's feet. But my experiences over a number of years have been that Opera has had widely varying stability on linux, ranging from very bad (Opera 6 on SuSE 8 was a particularly nightmarish release IIRC) to OK (Opera 9.* on SuSE linux 10.0 was stable enough), and its poor performance on Mac OS X made me abandon it on the iBook in favour of Safari. If not Opera on its own, then the combination of this particular release/build with this particular flavor/configuration of linux causes system freezes of the kind that are bad for my system. So rather than investigate further, I've switched all my web browsing over to Firefox and my email to Thunderbird.

I've never been fond of Mozilla Firefox, but I use it at work, and have found that it's improved quite a bit. Opera may be more innovative and comfortable, but Firefox is now very close, and any Opera feature that I use is available in a number of competing versions. I'll get used to this.

Anyway. I just thought I'd warn you. Your mileage may vary.

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