Posts Tagged ‘Ubuntu’


The Future has Arrived (and Apple Didn’t Make it!)

26 April, 2009

So, next week is finals week for me which means it’s my job, as a responsible student taking charge of her own education, to slack off as efficiently as possible. I have been having issues upgrading to Jaunty, so I couldn’t toy around with that. Instead, I decided to haul back out my copy of Boxee and give it a second chance.

I first read about Boxee about a month ago in a Wired article. It’s basically a glorified browser that allows you to access a variety of online multimedia sources like pandora radio, youtube, flickr, and sometimes hulu (more on that later). It can also play the media on your hard drive, including your music, movies, television shows, and pictures. What really sets Boxee apart, however, is the integration of an excellent social networking concept that allows you to register friends and share your faves with them. You can rate pretty much every piece of media you see or hear, and your high rated media shows up in your friends’ browsers under a dedicated column. You can also recommend media for one specific person. Did I mention that its UI is hella’ cool??

Now, before you get too excited, there are a few gotchas and some of them are BIG. Boxee is alpha software, even less polished than a beta release. It’s surprisingly stable for an alpha release and once you learn the things that piss it off, you can devise workarounds. But there are definitely things that piss it off- if you’re looking for rock-solid stability you’ll probably develop a tick if you use this program for too long. But heck, you’re a linux user, rock-solid stability isn’t even in your vocabulary, right?

The other major gotcha isn’t actually Boxee’s fault. Because the idea of a centrally located media center is fairly new, content providers haven’t quite figured out how to handle this brave new world. Some have jumped in headfirst, like youtube, while others, like netflix, have been less than eager to leave the shallow end of the pool and swim with the big kids. Thus, the online media menu is a bit spastic though there is a net gain in content over time.

Perhaps an example of how to totally screw it up is Hulu. I love hulu, don’t get me wrong. It was hulu that allowed me to drop kick my cable box into the Pacific. But the folks at hulu have been real bitches about this Boxee thing. Not too long after boxee went public, hulu demanded they remove its content. Then they made a blog post explaining that while they thought boxee was a good idea, their content providers were raising hell. What apparently they thought their readers didn’t know is that hulu is the content providers- it’s a joint venture between Fox and NBC. Because if cutting out a notable portion of your userbase doesn’t disgruntle them, being condescending should do it! In any case, it’s turning into an all out slugfest between boxee and hulu. Sometimes hulu programming is available (as it is when I write this) and sometimes it’s not (as it was when I first downloaded boxee) so don’t switch to boxee just for a slicker hulu interface.

Gotcha’s out of the way, I have to admit that I’m am extraordinarily impressed with boxee, and especially the how far it’s come from extraordinarily humble beginnings. When I first downloaded it three weeks ago it was essentially a very cool looking interface with no actual substance. None of the videos worked, hulu was down, there was a gorgeous and incredibly tempting netflix button that did absolutely nothing, and it froze if you so much as thought about playing music.

I downloaded the newest upgrade today and to say they’ve made progress is a gross understatement. Netflix is still unavailable on computers that lack the silverlight engine (that means us, fellow denizens of Ubuntuland) but pretty much everything else is at least basically functional- videos play, hulu is accessible, and some of my music collection shows up in the interface. For me, that’s enough functionality to win me back. I am also deeply and irretrievably in love with the keyboard only interface: a wireless keyboard is all you need to control it from the comfort of your couch!

If you need convincing (don’t know why you would, it’s free software!) check out some screenies that I shot earlier. From the top: the internet video screen with the main menu off to the side, the music selection screen, an album review page, hulu, and the awesome pandora interface.





Last but not least, there is apparently a poll going as to what exactly the Boxee logo represents. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a frog with mental health issues.


HP Pavillion TX series Audio

8 April, 2009

I have an HP Pavillion tx2000z, and from a fresh install the audio was completely nonfunctional. After a goodly amount of work I have gotten pretty much everything working. Here’s how:

Firstly, we need to change our sound server. Intrepid (and presumably Jaunty) uses PulseAudio as the default audio server, but pulseaudio is not properly compatible with the realtek audio card in HP’s tx series. ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) works much better.
Open up the Sound Preferences (System>Preferences>Sound) and change all the options to ALSA. For default mixer tracks, you want HDA NVidia (Alsa Mixer). Highlight the master track.

Next, a little bit of tweaking to ensure that all of our volume controls are on the same page.
Right click the volume control icon in the status tray and select preferences. Make sure it says HDA NVidia (Alsa Mixer) and that master is highlighted. Close that dialogue box and double click on the volume control icon to open up the channel mixer. “Headphone,” “PCM,” and “Front” should all be at max. The “Master” channel is the variable, that is when you want your audio soft you turn it down and when you want your audio loud you turn it up. The volume control icon in your status tray controls the master channel.

Finally, just a little bit of command line work and we’ll be ready to jam.
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base
Scroll to the very bottom and add this string:
options snd-hda-intel model=hp
Save the file and restart your computer. When it’s back in the land of the living, your built-in speakers and headset jacks will be working, and it will automatically switch between them when you plug something in. I haven’t tested the built in mic- never had a reason to use it.

Happy Clicking!


Lightscribe for Ubuntu

5 April, 2009

lightscribe labeled disk
[Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

My laptop came with a lightscribe enabled CD/DVD-RW drive. After I switched to Ubuntu I set about looking for a program that would allow me to burn labels to my discs. It took a lot of digging and several tries to find a solution that worked, so I’ll share it with you.

First, we need the lightscribe driver that allows your computer to talk with the hardware. Download it and install as you would any other .deb.

Next, we need the labeling software. After trying a few different programs I’ve settled on the LaCie labeler (download). It’s only available in .rpm format, so after it’s downloaded we’re going to need to do a little terminal work.
To convert a .rpm to a .deb, we need a program called alien:
sudo apt-get install alien
Now we can use alien to run the conversion:
cd ~/Desktop
sudo alien -k 4L-1.0-r6.i586.rpm

A .deb package will appear on the desktop and you can install it normally.

Cool, now we have our labeler installed. Just a quick test to insure everything’s ready to go, and you can start burning labels.
Run the labeler:
gksudo 4L-gui
The gksudo is important because printing disks requires root access. Watch your terminal: if, like for me, it starts to whine about, you need to install one more thing:
sudo apt-get install libstdc++5

Finally, we need to add an icon to the applications menu so we can open the labeler easily. Right click on the applications menu and choose “edit menu”. Pick a submenu to place it (I chose graphics but it’s really up to you) then click “new item.” Think up a snappy name and enter “gksudo /usr/4L/4L-gui” in the command box. Hit close and then exit out of the menu editor.

Now you’re ready to start burning labels! A few hints to make your labeling as smooth as possible:

1. Lightscribe discs are specially coded so that they always start burning in the same place. If your label isn’t quite as dark as you want, just burn it again right over the existing label- it will line up perfectly.

2. Don’t leave lightscribe discs out in the sun or in excessive heat or they may fade. Because of the heat generated by computers, it may not be a good idea to use lightscribe for discs that are going to be sitting in your computer for long times, like music cds or dvds: nothing bad will happen to them except fading, though.

3. You can use any picture you want for a label but remember it’s grayscale only and the resolution isn’t great, so it’s best to use as simple an image as possible.

4. Hewlett-Packard (the kind corporate folks who make lightscribe) has a massive amount of disc designs for you to download free of charge in their Ideas and Design Center. Pick a theme pack and download the linux version, which is essentially a collection of image files that fit on a disc perfectly. Très magnifique!

COMING SOON: Lightscribe Labels for your Jaunty Jackalope LiveCDs!

UPDATE: If, after having followed the instructions above your lightscribe drive is not recognized, enter the following into your terminal:
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ /usr/lib32/
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/ /usr/lib32/
sudo ldconfig


Uninstalling .deb Packages

29 March, 2009

.deb packages, for the uninitiated, are functionally equivalent to .exe’s in Windows. You download them and then run them and they install software, drivers, etc on your computer. They are somewhat more convenient than using apt-get in many situations and they often seem friendlier to newcomers. But beware, the .deb has a dark side.

Just like with apt-get, .deb’s each have a unique package name, and you need to know this to uninstall them. Unlike apt-get, there is no handy-dandy GUI equivalent to provide you with a list of packages currently installed should you forget this name. So, if you want to uninstall a .deb file but can’t remember the exact package name, be prepared to do some digging.

The first, fastest, and probably most painless way may seem a little unintuitive; download the package again. Go back to where you got it, download it again, and open it with gdebi package installer. It will show the package name along with various other tidbits of information. Once you have the package name you can delete the newly downloaded file, and then go seek and destroy the installed version. If this option is available to you, do it- it will save you many a headache. However, there may be times when it is not; if you don’t remember where you got it or it’s no longer available, etc. Don’t worry, it’s still possible to uninstall the file, I just can’t guarantee that you won’t want to kill yourself by the time it’s done.

Second method is to run a wildcard search using dpkg. This is also fairly painless, but it only works if the package name is somewhat obvious- which they aren’t always. The command to use:

dpkg -l '*keyword*'

Where keyword is any word or bit of word that might be in or close to the package name. Say I wanted to uninstall Open Office: a good keyword here would be open. The list of packages that comes up is pretty long, but Open Office is indeed there. You can narrow it down more but you risk accidentally cutting out the package you want. So keep your keywords as basal as possible.

If after running a wildcard search you still have not found your package name you will need to get somewhat medieval and search the installed packages by hand. It’s tedious, but there are a few tricks to  speed it up. If you think you know the first letter of the package, you can use a permutation of the previous command to narrow your list:
dpkg -l 'x*'
Where  x is your letter of choice.

You can also search through the packages using a semi-gui called aptitude. In your terminal:
gksudo aptitude
While not exactly intuitive, aptitude at least separates the installed packages into categories. The first place to check is the upper-level category “Obsolete and Locally Created Packages”. Chances are good your package is in there, but if it’s not you’ll need to sift through the other categories to find it.

Okay, so, assuming you haven’t just chucked your computer out the window by now, you probably have your package name. Now you can finally delete it! This may be a bit anticlimactic, but geekdom isn’t exactly known for edge-of-your-seat thrills. Here’s the command to nuke that son of a bitch:
sudo dpkg -r package

The whole process of uninstalling .deb’s is really quite annoying and I’m surprised some programmer hasn’t come up with a little tool to at least search packages efficiently. In all honestly, probably the best way to handle this is to keep a text file with the names of all packages you install via .deb. It’s inconvenient, but should the time come to delete the file you will be very happy you did it.