Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I just set up Skype for Linux here on Hal's Formerly Evil Twin.*

I downloaded the deb file, did the sudo dpkg -i thing, plugged in a Logitech USB headset, and fired up Skype. Voila! I logged in easily, I set up Skype to use the headset to talk and listen, and made the test call, which worked fine — except that it about blasted out my ear.

Since I didn't change the default sound system, which is still alsa, none of the standard volume controls would turn down the sound. I looked around the web, and finally found the answer here. You have to explicitly tell your system to turn down the volume on the USB device. For my system it's dsp1, but your mileage may vary. To get volume control for dsp1, open up a terminal window, and run

alsamixer -c 1

This will bring up an interface where you can adjust the volume — with the arrow keys, not the mouse, it's a text window after all.

It apparently works, though I'll have to wait for my ears to stop ringing to be absolutely sure.

*Do not give me a hard time about using unfree software. This is a work related project, and I have to make compromises if I want to keep getting a paycheck.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Web Pages, Torrents, and Files (Oh My)

I usually don't post twice in the same day (or the same week, anymore), but here's something I wanted to bookmark, courtesy Debian Package of the Day:

aria2: high speed command line download utility

Just what it says. It's akin to wget, except that you can apparently link to a torrent as well. I, uh, ahem, haven't tried it out yet, so no review on how well it works.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be able to download an entire http directory tree.

Oh yeah: even though the package is called aria2, the utility itself is aria2c.

Locksley Would Be Proud

From the University of Nottingham, via the Beeb and Science in the News:

The Periodic Table of Videos

a collection of YouTube videos showing the elements of the periodic table. That is, if you click on Palladium, you get a video of a couple of Merry Men telling you about its properties and commercial uses, and showing you a bit of palladium wire. Other vidoes have Lithium in water, Neon lights, etc. Could be a bit more like Mythbusters, but it is interesting.

Plus there's some really great hair.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wireless Ubuntu

You may remember that Hal's Evil Twin runs Linux as well as XP. Well, I'm going to take HsET on a long trip with me, and I wanted it set up to run Linux properly. So I downloaded a copy of the latest Ubuntu Hardy Spin and installed it.

Worked perfectly, if I used an ethernet connection.

Then it was time to try the wireless. Previously this had been painful.

And this time it looked to be the same:

Verizon FIOS gives you a router using WEP encryption. We're rather isolate out in East Bowie, so I've never bothered to change it. So to set up the network, you go to System => Network, unlock it (i.e., sudo), click on the wireless connection, edit properties to have the correct SSID, password, etc., give the configuration a name, save it, and you're off to the races, right?

Wrong. It just wouldn't work.

Until I rebooted.

Now, mind, THIS SHOULD NOT BE NECESSARY. network-manager, bless its heart, should start and stop the wireless whenever you ask. No documentation mentions the need to reboot.

But, indeed, I had to reboot. Was it HsET? Was it me? Was it Ubuntu being crazy? I don't know.

At least it works, for now.

Note that HsET still runs XP as well, so it will keep the Evil Twin moniker, at least for a while.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


We just bought the New Graduate a new computer (Dell Inspiron 530, 3GB memory, 250 GB disk, 19 inch wide screen monitor), and being in the nature of things, it came with Vista Home Premium. I wasn't particularly happy with that, but NG wants Photoshop (gotten cheap from Creation Engine), as part of the graduation package, and I'm not going to argue with an artist about tools.

So here comes the computer with the evil Windows Vista attached. I hesitated, but then bit the bullet and set it up.

You know what? It doesn't suck.

OK, we're running on a dual-core chip, with lots of memory, but it didn't suck. It actually found the appropriate drives and software for our printer and camera. I suspect it might have even found the driver for our drawing tablet, but I beat it to the punch and got the driver (which works better than the XP one) myself.

  • Babylon V episodes from Hulu played flawlessly, widescreen and at high definition, over a wireless connection.
  • I was able to transfer files (mostly) from the old computer to the new, again over the same wireless network. Not properly transfered were the settings from Thunderbird and Firefox (go figure), but I was able to get that fixed without too much trouble. It would have been hard for a newbe, though.
  • I got a pop-up window asking me if I wanted to permit some action every time I wanted to install some software, but it wasn't particularly obnoxious, and I'm used to it from using apt-get and Mac OS X all these years. In fact, it really needs to ask for a password, just like sudo apt-get and the OS X software installation system.

Would I get a Vista box for myself, unforced by work requirements? Nope, not on your life. But I can see that given a brand new computer, with drivers set up properly by the OEM, Vista can be a reasonable OS.

Now mind you, it still has problems:

  • The Command window is still the same as it was in Win95, 25 lines, 80 characters, and no hope of doing anything useful. I hope you can still install the Cygwin package, if you're stuck with a Windows machine and need to do real command-line work.
  • You can't just say
    $ apt-get install ...
    to install a new piece of software. No, you've got to go to the originator's site and get the software, clicking on all those boxes that no one ever reads that say that Adobe gets your first grandchild or whatever. (If someone would make an ad-supported software aggregator site that mimicked synaptic and handled all the Windows installation details, they'd get rich. Overnight.)
  • It's still Windows, so doing any heavy customization work requires you search all over the place, to, say, have a rotating background.

But it don't suck. So why is Vista so universally hated? Well, for one thing it won't run on most computers in existence, at least not well. It's a resource hog. You need a modern high-power computer to run it right. Something like a Cray YMP just ain't powerful enough.

And it's not XP. There are significant interface differences. Now that doesn't bother someone coming from Linux, and it doesn't bother New Grad, who was heard to say I'll just click around to figure it out. But it does seem to bother many people. I'm not sure why. A backed-up computer is one of the few things in the world you can break with complete and absolute assurance that you can restore it to its previous health. But playing with software seems to scare many people. Learning something new scares them even more.

But Vista doesn't suck. It's still not Open Source, and it's probably not all that secure, and it doesn't give you all the options that a good Linux system does, but it's not as bad as you may have heard – especially from XP fans.

And here ends the heresy.