Sun, 29 Apr 2007
I decided yesterday that it was time to upgrade my
Kubuntu system to the latest version
7.04, codenamed Feisty Fawn. This was slightly easier to do than in previous upgrades.
Instead of having to use the command line I was prompted by the update system to
upgrade. I went through a few screens and then the upgrade kicked off. It ran for
a couple of hours, but then I got what I had dreaded, an error screen. Something had
gone wrong late in the process. I was prompted to run dpkg at the command line.
This prompted another long series of processes that installed all the packages.
Eventually it completed, but there still seems to be one package that's broken.
Generally the system seems to work, but a couple of things are not right. I've lost
sound in Firefox again, but I do have Flash 9 now, so more things should run.
KDE has a slightly different look to it. Amarok has gained access to the
Magnatune library. There's also a new version
of Frozen Bubble!
So not perfect, but could have been worse. I will probably do a fresh install some time,
but will probably wait until I build a new PC.
I will be able to afford a new PC if I sell my motorbike. With help from my friend Dave I have
finally got it in decent running order. I took it for a brief ride today and it's running
very nicely. I shall be placing an ad soon.
Shock news on the distributed computing front today. Grid.org
have ended their public project. I'm amazed that they have done this without giving plenty
of notice. Many people have invested in systems to run this project and are going to feel a
bit put out. I have never run a dedicated system for it, but have still racked up
well over 5 years
of processing on various PCs. Recently I have moved away from it to things like
Folding@home. The aims are similar, to find ways to
fight disease, but they support more platforms such as Linux. I would encourage others to
run these projects to help them find the answers sooner.
Wed, 25 Apr 2007
Lots of people work with more than one PC on their desk. It can be a pain to keep swapping
keyboard and mouse, especially if one of them is a laptop.
Last Year I started using
Synergy, which lets you use one keyboard and mouse to
control them all. You tell it how the screens are arranged and then moving the mouse off the
side of one screen transfers control to the adjacent PC. They can even share a clipboard,
although I have occaisional problems with that feature. I've used it frequently with
my Linux PC and a Windows laptop.
A slight niggle was the lack of a GUI on Linux, but now I
read that such a thing does exist
and is called QuickSynergy. I shall have to give
it a go.
It's been pointed out in the article above, and elsewhere, that you should be aware than all
keystrokes are being sent unencrypted over the network. Not an issue on my home system, but
could be on larger networks. Apparently SSH can be used to avoid this.
I'm off to a gig tonight. Seeing Porcupine Tree in
Cambridge. I don't know their music that well, but a friend of a friend is best mates with their main
man, so I'm on the guest list! That's a first for me. I was checking out some of their work on
Youtube. Sounds good.
From what I've heard I would file them near Muse and
Dream Theater, i.e. very technically competent rock, perhaps
even verging on Prog! That's fine by me as long as it's done with feeling.
Mon, 23 Apr 2007
Got to have some spares
Someone on The Inquirer has been clearing
out his computer junk. I've go a fair bit myself. Under my desk are a couple of PCs, one an ancient AMD K6,
the other a more useful Athlon 800 that I put together from spares. I also have a few boxes of assorted parts
that I might find a use for. There's one box of stuff I definitely don't need, but can't bear to throw away.
I have most of it listed on my Multiply site for
people to browse. Some went to people via Freecycle. There just comes a
point where nobody wants some of it because it's just not generally usable. Some will use an ancient PC
as a firewall, but that's a power-hungry way to do it. I certainly couldn't justify leaving a PC on all
the time. I rely on my router to protect me and that is only on when the PC is on.
I know others with even more antique kit. Maybe they hope it will become collectable. I did see that
someone sold an old Apple II for over $1000 recently, but you have to have the really rare stuff with
all the original manuals etc to get that sort of money.
So what's the oldest bit of computer kit you have? Mine is probably a Logitech digital camera that does
around 100 kilopixels in shades of grey. I even have the box for that.
Fri, 20 Apr 2007
The latest Ubuntu was released yesterday. Version 7.04, codenamed
Feisty Fawn. I fully intend to upgrade, although I have been pondering a fresh install. Maybe I should
wait and see what is still broken. Something that broke a while ago was sound in Firefox. There was
always a problem with Firefox either taking full control of system sound or not getting it at all.
I was just taking a look at The Ubuntu Guide on Feisty
and spotted a bit about Firefox sound under installing Flash. You install alsa-oss and tweak the firefoxrc
file. It worked! Not only is sound working, but I can even have that and Amarok playing at the same time.
Linux just became more usable.
Something that's not working, but has in the past are the video news items on
BBC News. A window pops up, and I briefly see the Realplayer controls,
but then that area goes blank. I know some people don't like having things like Realplayer and Flash on
their systems due to the lack of openness, but I have to keep the family happy.
Mon, 16 Apr 2007
Converting TV to Divx
I'm happily recording TV on my Freeview card, but the files are a little big at around 2GB/hour.
I've done some playing around with converting to Divx and now have a little script that converts to
a reasonable looking Divx of around a quarter of the original size. The only problem is that the resulting
files always play back in full screen (4:3) rather than the original widescreen (16:9) as the big versions
(in MPEG) do. I've been reading various sites, but the mencoder manual says that it is possible to
get the right aspect ration as long as you play back in mplayer. I've tried the example options
at the bottom of
this page, but got a 'FATAL: Cannot initialize video driver' error.
For reference my script is:
mencoder "$1" -ovc lavc -lavcopts vpass=1 -oac copy -ffourcc DX50 turbo -o "$2"
mencoder "$1" -ovc lavc -lavcopts vpass=2 -oac copy -ffourcc DX50 -o "$2"
It uses two passes to improve the quality a little. So any ideas on what I should add to fix the
aspect ratio? For now I am concentrating on generating files to play on the PC, but I will keep in
mind that they may also get played on a Divz-capable DVD player through the TV.
I've had more contact with the author of ZapDVB. When we changed
to summer time it started recording an hour later than I wanted it to. He pointed out that I had to run
tzconfig to set my system's timezone. That fixed it.
Of course I also need a new TV one day.
looks about right if someone wants to buy it for me. Apparently it burns about 1500W, so it will keep us warm
Thu, 12 Apr 2007
Herts LUG 20070411
Rob gave a good talk on
Blender. Very good of him to still do this after being
seriously ill recently. I've not played with 3d rendering since my Amiga days. Things have moved on since
then with real-time previews and lots of other stuff, but it's still a specialist field that requires
lots of work to get good results. Not sure I should get into that when there are so many other things
I want to do. I've not been well myself. Got one of my heavy colds this week, so staying at home to
Rob's talk ended with a viewing of Elephants Dream, a short
film showing what Blender can do. I played a part by managing to install
VLC on Nicolas's laptop so we could play the AVI.
Just finished reading Brian Eno's Diary.
This was a great fun read. Gives lots of insight into the life of this artist, including his family life. I need to update my
book list, but I need to decide what I'm reading next first.
I was tidying the garden at the weekend. That's a neverending job and I can never control all of it. At least
I can enjoy watchinhg the wildlife out there from my desk in the study. We're having fun watching our tadpoles in the
pond. Someone gave us a whole bucket of them to start us off. We did have a frog, but there was no spawn this year.
Thu, 05 Apr 2007
The internals of my main PC are getting on a bit. My Duron 1200 is way
behind today's dual core chips. It can run most things I throw at it, but is very slow when it comes to things like
converting video files. I've been thinking of building a new PC, but there are savings to be made by upgrading this box
as the drives are more up to date. I've just seen a couple of bundles that seem possible candidates. Both use mATX boards
that would fit my Antec Aria and have on-board graphics that may be adequate for my non-gaming needs:
Both are around UKP200, which seems reasonable for an upgrade. Both chips use about the same power (65W), but
these benchmarks show the Intel chip
being considerably quicker in all fields. The Intel set has half the memory. It looks like another UKP45 to bring it level.
There are question marks over the supplied heatsinks. Would they fit in my case and are they quiet? I'd pay a little
extra for near silence. Intel have some new chips
coming this month, which implies either that I could get that set for less or get something quicker for the same.
I've never been on the cutting edge of PC hardware. I've always bought chips near the low end of the range
for a better price/performance ratio. I've also not bothered overclocking as reliability is more important than
getting a little more speed. If I can find the spare money then I think I will be making the change soon. I'll
probably take the opportunity to do a fresh install of Kubuntu after the next version
If anyone wants to make any recommendations I am open to suggestions.
Sat, 31 Mar 2007
A Good Evening at the Keyboard
I had a productive evening yesterday. I had a reply from the author of the
ZapDVB digital TV recording software. He welcomed my
offer of help in improving the English language text displayed by the software, so I did some
editing of the language file and sent it back to him. He says that a new version is being worked on.
I've made a few recordings with ZapDVB, but they take up a lot of space at around 2GB/hour.
I had thought about converting to DVDs, but as my new DVD player can do DIVX I thought I
could use that instead. As mentioned earlier I
was playing with mencoder to do this. My first attempt produced a file that played on the PC, but
was rejected by the DVD player. I managed to find some
options that worked. Playback on the
TV is a bit blocky, but may be acceptable. It's mostly going to be stuff for the kids and they are
not as picky as me about picture quality.
I've been having some thoughts about using some sort of Jabber bot to do some remote administration
tasks, e.g. notifying me of comments on this site. I've had a look before to find an example that I
could use as a basis. My latest find was gozerbot. It's
written in Python and already has a comprehensive set of plug-ins. With a little help from their IRC channel
I got it working on my PC. I need to investigate further into how to write my own plug-ins.
It's amazing what you can achieve if you don't spend all evening reading
Wed, 28 Mar 2007
Firefox History Tip
These days I keep very few bookmarks in Firefox. There are a few there for
sites I visit every day. The rest are in del.icio.us so I can access them
wherever I am. Even for sites I do have in bookmarks I quite often access them by just pressing F6 and start
typing the URL. One problem with this is that my history has quite a few URLs that I have mistyped. I used to
think you could only get rid of them by clearing the whole history, but I recently read that pressing
Shift-Del would clear one. Not only that, but it works on web forms too for text that Firefox remembers for
I've had some issues with my right hand due to using the mouse so much, so I prefer to use the keyboard
when I can. Lots more shortcuts for Firefox here.
I should try and learn a few more, taking account of the differences on Windows and Linux.
If I am using the mouse I like to use
mouse gestures as this reduces the number
of clicks required. There's a few gestures I use, but again I ought to learn some more.
The general problem with all these shortcuts is that you don't always realise that they are there unless you
read the documentation, and who does that? Another recent revelation was KDE's
Katapult. I now use that a lot for launching
Fri, 23 Mar 2007
PS3 Out-Folds the Rest
<< 1 2 3
I should have checked the stats before
how the PS3 would do on F@H. 15,000 PS3s are managing more
TeraFLOPS than around 200,000 PCs of various types. Impressive. We shall see if the enthusiasm lasts.
There's discussion in various places about how energy efficient the PS3 is compared to some PC
platforms and it seems it's not as good as far as gaining F@H points. There are people out there
who have large numbers of dedicates machines running this sort of project. I just saw an example of
one whose electricity bill is nearly triple mine. I can't afford that and would find it hard to
justify unless I knew the electricity was from a renewable source. Maybe when I build my own
wind farm I'll set up some PCs to use the excess power. Meanwhile, my puny box will be turned off
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