Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Can you ear me now?

This story at Live Science is from June, but I didn't hear about it until recently.

Hearing in discotheques

In the first study, 286 clubbers were observed while they were talking, with loud music in the background. In total, 72 percent of interactions occurred on the right side of the listener. These results are consistent with the right-ear preference found in laboratory studies and questionnaires, and they demonstrate that the side bias is spontaneously displayed outside the laboratory.

In the second study, the researchers approached 160 clubbers and mumbled an inaudible, meaningless utterance (such as "babababa") and waited for the subjects to turn their head and offer either their left of their right ear. They then asked subjects for a cigarette (in Italian the request specifically was "Hai una sigaretta?" which can be translated in English as "Do you have a cigarette?"). Overall, 58 percent offered their right ear for listening and 42 percent their left. No link was found between the number of cigarettes obtained and the ear receiving the request.

In the third study, the researchers intentionally addressed 176 clubbers in either their right or their left ear when asking for a cigarette. They obtained significantly more cigarettes when they spoke to the clubbers' right ear compared with their left.

The applications of this science remain to be discovered. Can the results be generalized beyond cigarettes, club-goers, the "discotheque" environment, smokers, and Italians? It seems that "babababa" may have a different meaning in a club environment than outside of that environment. I'd assume it means, "I'm tripping too much to be able to use language; can you help me?" When the researcher then produces a coherent request, the subject may surrender a cigarette in relief.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Free Open-Source Malware for Linux

Having mentioned screensavers, I should also mention this: Watch out for malicious code falsely labeled as screensavers at Ubuntuforums and ubuntu-user have details. The incident shows that downloading and installing software from a web site (even is a security risk with Linux as it is with Mac or Windows, although at least the code can be examined by anyone and suspicious code exposed and revealed. For security reasons, install software from the official repositories. Wallpapers should be safe.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

RSS feed screensaver

There have been a few bumps in the Linux transition after 15 years of using APPL Macs. OpenOffice, Firefox, Opera, Thunderbird, and Picasa function well as replacements for m$Office, Safari, Mail, and the Mac universe i-Apps. Two functions I found I really missed were search/indexing (as provided by Spotlight built in to MacOSX) and less importantly but subjectively important, my way of getting news accidentally, the RSS news screensaver. For the indexing problem, Google Desktop finally indexed many of my 15 years of acquired files after 72 hours or so, and provides many of the old Spotlight functions I had become dependent upon to find files somewhat poorly disorganized over the years as they were re-imported from other computers and disks. I'll try to find a better indexing client that I can trust not to upload all my data to Google's server farms.

As for the screensaver, well, of course, you don't really need a screensaver. You could set it to blank out the screen or hibernate. You could say that it wastes energy. I would say that it may save time and energy because giving me the top-level news when I'm not using the computer may keep me from turning on CNN or searching through the news in a browser.

Although I didn't see any RSS screensaver function at first, it seems to have been nestling quietly among the screensaver options all along.

As you can perhaps see, in my case, using Edubuntu, I seem to have had 2 Screensaver panels under System>Preferences from the beginning. As I understand it, one of them is the Gnome screensaver, and the other is Xscreensaver (or came from somewhere else?). I'm not sure. Anyway, even if you see it there, you'll want to go into Synaptic and get Xscreensaver and its associated packages. Google around for more info if it my instructions are too vague.

The xscreensaver-data-extra I am selecting in the picture is a package which doesn't download for me since I apparently already have a copy of it(?). I should remove the dodgy one. It's not needed for this, anyway. When you configure the Screensaver panel which corresponds to Xscreensaver rather than Gnome Screensaver, it will prompt you to shut down the gnome screensaver daemon (if it's already running) and start up the Xscreensaver daemon. I'm not sure if I have made these changes permanent (after restart) or not, another detail to check on.

Find a good RSS news source. I find Yahoo Top News is best for me (as a general news source) as opposed to Google News, for example. Yahoo news provides a headline, the (AP) credit, and a one sentence summary of text before the next story. Google News has the name of the newspaper, which takes up most of the feed, followed by a few words of an incomplete sentence and other newspaper sources. No Good. Both of them change and update frequently many times an hour, unlike BBC and some others which tend to freeze the news for the day.

Click Settings in Fliptext and Starwars to configure the font size, width of the column, and a few other variables.

In Xscreensaver, you can choose Random and check the modules(?) you want to use. In the Advanced settings panel, paste your RSS feed source for text. Be sure to check Fliptext and StarWars as two of the screensaver modules which will show the news on your screen. Other fun ones are Carousel, GLCells, GLSchool, Gleidescope, Jigsaw, Noof, and Photopile. Mix in a few of those so you won't have only news scrolling by all the time. The output looks like this:

Enjoy and stay informed from the source of your choice!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chapter T3ree is 4Free

I have this book, one of the few available in English in a physical bookstore in Japan. The Official Ubuntu Book, 4th Edition, 2009 (Jaunty). You can read the third chapter online. Of course, there is a lot of documentation and posts online, but I wanted to also have an old-fashioned paper book.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This is your cephalopod tool-using brain with a coconut shell

Research led by Julian Finn as reported at Nat'l Geographic:

The evolving tool-use of the cephalopod community puts increased pressure on the dominant bipedal tail-less fire monkey. To those concerned about homonid civilization being overwhelmed by the rise of the octopi, I recommend ordering an extra dish of tako sushi ASAP or maybe throwing one of them on the "barbee" at your earliest convenience.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009


OpenPrinting cannot really be trusted. Some printers are listed as Paperweights--such as the 990i or i990--yet are supported by the commercial product TurboPrint, at least. Others have been listed as Perfectly, fully functional, because they are supported by TurboPrint. You cannot rely on this resource, but it's a good starting point.

I had to buy a new printer because our Pixus 990i went to a solid glowing yellow unresponsive light some days ago and never snapped out of it. I checked out some HP and Brother printers because they have very good Linux printing support. Canon support seemed spotty, but at the last minute this morning before returning to PC Depot to get a printer I was informed that the Canon Pixus MP640 did have drivers for both printing and scanning, and since it also prints CD/DVDs and is a wi-fi printer, I made a last-minute decision to get that one.

The printer wasn't cooperating in Linux at first so I decided to try it in Mac OS X. That was easy to set up and worked like a charm. Actually, the printer and scanner were recognized twice since I enabled the printer to use "Bonjour" as well as the normal wireless network link. We were connecting wirelessly on the laptops but not the ethernet-connected PCs, so I made a slight correction to the networking and now network printing and scanning is now available for Mac, Windows, and Linux PCs both wired and wireless. We had been using the age-old technique of just swapping the USB to the machine we wanted to print from, so this is a huge leap, but it seemed to take most of the day.

You can get the Japanese Linux drivers here, both deb and rpm. Linux drivers for the MP640 are here. The Debian printer drivers are here, and the Debian ScanGearMP packages are here. When you unpack these, each file contains two packages, a more generic one and a specific one for the MP640. Install all four with the package manager (a default, just double-click it). One final note: you cannot scan using XScan. The ScanGearMP works only with GIMP or on the command line, so just fire up the GIMP to start scanning, and set the MP640 as the default printer in your system preferences so you don't need to select it for every application. If you use Linux and get this printer that may save you a few minutes.

I haven't had a whole lot of experience testing printers, and I cannot vouch for the print quality of photos or DVDs and CDs. All I've printed is test prints, web pages, and OpenOffice documents. At the moment I'm just happy to have something that prints and scans painlessly from all the computers, Linux, Windows, or Mac, wherever they are. The MP640 is also a copier and has a fully multilingual menu with at least a dozen major languages. There are also some preset documents in the printer, like writing paper, sheet music paper, kanji practice paper, and so on. Just select one and print it out.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Linux Transition v4

I finally converted the mac mini to Edubuntu Linux by enabling printing, the last remaining barrier to use. Without being able to print, I would be forced to boot back into the Mac OS X every time I wanted to print. Contrary to the information on the Linux Printing database page, the Canon Pixus 990i, (AKA the i990 outside Japan) does have support.

Canon itself provides rpms --which should work on any(?) rpm-based distribution (Red Hat, Fedora, OpenSuSE, Mandriva-- and source, which I suppose can be compiled once I figure that out.

There is also older debian and ubuntu support that may/not work

I downloaded turbolinux and that got printing up and running although it may only work for 30 days before putting some logo or something on my printouts. I'll find a workaround w/in 30 days, or buy a new printer, or boot back into MacOSX, or install an rpm-based distribution to keep my printer happy. I hope nothing gets so broken that I have to go back to the Apple world.

Apparently it's also possible to convert rpm to deb using "alien" but that involves command line interface (CLI)toral skills of a higher level. I don't think I would need that anyway since I have the source.

Printing was the final barrier because sound is good, and I decided that no physical shutdown or restarting is not really such a show-stopper; I am old enough to remember computers that had to be shut down in software and then shut down physically. It was about 15 years ago. Back to the future. Also, Mac and Linux usually run for months without needing to reboot, anyway. (I don't know about WinDOS--never ran it long enough to see if it was equally stable.)

This is "Linux Transition v4" because there has been the Little Sucker (Eee pc 4G), Little Puppy (Eee pc 1000HE), the iLamp (M9290J/A), and now the 2009 mac mini. I had to change the mini since I tend to work on it, use it for mail, and use it for podcasts and iPod syncing. In addition to being figuratively locked in classrooms with Windows five hours a week, if I use the Mac as my main home computer, I may not even use Linux everyday. I was probably using MacOSx 50 or 60% of the time, then Linux, then Windows. This will put Linux on top, with the obligatory Windows time at work, and Mac and Windows available at home as a secondary boot option should I ever need them. This fourth install puts me over the hump. Edubuntu, Ubuntu, Xubuntu, and the Netbook Remix and Moblin Remix are the ones I am using now. I'm done with Mandriva for a while and I not using OpenSuSE anymore or Fedora (yet). I am interested in looking into Fedora, Debian, and FreeBSD but Ubuntu is serving me best right now, I like the philosophy, and I think it may be more productive to try to use a larger rather than smaller distribution and build a bigger community, all else being equal.

That leaves only the 2003 eMac and some 1999-2000 iMacs in my 3rd floor PPCLounge running MacOS. I rarely get up there these days. The challenge of the eMac will also require me to finally master editing the xorg.conf file and get the eMac display challenge right. In addition to those, there are also 2 other Windows computers run by others in my family. They seem happy as Windows drones.

I'm very happy with the mac-mini-bootcamp-edubuntu-OS. It seems better than the MacOS, but I could be biased. The text editor gedit is certainly better than Text Edit in that gedit is tabbed. Rhythmbox sees my iPod and plays the music without complaining about it being synched to another computer or such nonsense. I don't know well yet, but if it doesn't support the iPod well, I'll try gpodder and some other tools or just get a SanDisk. Basically, freedom is better. MacOSX is like sleeping in your office because it's a really nice office; Linux is more like having your own place made of prefab parts that you built from free materials donated to a co-op. We might compare it to being out in the forest in some cabins since GNU-Linux(&BSD) is a whole ecosystem of competing and co-evolving operating systems and software, while the Windows-Mac duopoly is a shiny glass office building. Don't you dare try knocking holes in the walls or redecorating. Edubuntu with Google Gadgets and a lot of small customizations looks much better than MacOSX right away. Part of it may be because the 22 inches of screen looks better than the ten inches of screen I was looking at in the netbook experience. Possible 2.2 times better. Squared. Somehow it looks great. I had been looking at that brushed aluminum for years and years. It's a nice look, and it would have been good for 4 to 6 months. But give me a break. Try something different for Steve's sake. Mahogany. Concrete. Stone. Something. I can't stand looking at it anymore. Only one choice in everything. The Cult of Mac. It's like Steve Jobs is dad and you have to live in his house and follow all of his rules as he gets older and a little slower at staying up to date all the time. Grow up, MacAddicts! Stop sucking corporate ass'le. I will enjoy not having only the Mac hardware to choose from for my OS of choice. However, I do intend to keep one working Apple CPU and MacOSx around for odd jobs. I miss the RSS news screensaver; I've got schools of fish now and it's very AfterDark Flocks-esque.

I tried to set my Shuffle to download the latest podcast of some select daily favorites and delete the previous day's. I always do it by hand. I knew it was possible because the Nano can do it. But I found it was not possible. The Shuffle is only allowed to download a random mix, or you synch files manually. Crippleware. Steve Jobs apparently decided the Shuffle was for jogging, that it should be nearly impossible NOT to shuffle it (1 mm slider has to stop halfway to NOT shuffle) and that users should be forced to upgrade to the Nano if they wanted to automatically offload and onload their daily (or frequently updated) favorites. The Shuffle is better for me because I want to operate it by touch in my pocket, so APPL just lost another customer. When I hear "Shuffle" I imagine a crippled old man walking slowly without lifting his feet. I sometimes call it the iPot-snuffle or the iPot-sniffle. It's yet another entry in the Top 50 Things I Hate About APPL. I will have to write that list up sometime. Maybe I should go for 100?

Speaking of things I hate about APPL, how about the situation where Windows has a (near) 90% market share and is somehow NOT a monopoly? Can you imagine any other business in which a company has a 90% market share and is NOT considered a monopoly? Imagine if one company had 90% of the phone lines. How much competition would there be? What if one company had 90% of the rails, or roads, or gas stations, or cars, internet service providers, or television stations? Is there any chance it would not be considered a monopoly and not be broken up? Looking back at it, what happened is that Apple saved Microsoft. By taking Microsoft's investment and staying afloat as a token make-believe competitor, they saved Microsoft from Microsoft's worst nightmare, being an undeniable monopolist. The two of them carved up the market. Maybe Steve promised not to sell computers for much under $1000. Bill promised to delay or screw up Windows enough to help APPL get over 5% again. In the alternate timeline where Apple did go broke, Windows would have to be clearly recognized as a monopoly and might have been broken into a few competing companies, teams, and versions of Windows by now.

Apple has an SD card in their laptop computers now, much like they finally have a radio function in some iPods, after refusing to consider it for the first 5 years when it would have been cutting-edge. However, you cannot get the SD card in their one laptop for $1000. You need to pay more and get the more expensive model. Guys. Computers at the $200 and $300 level have the SD card slot. They've had it for years. You don't use that as a feature to squeeze more money out of people--unless you really think of your customers as dumb farm animals (no insult to sentient farm animals intended).

Here is a funny spoof of the iconic I'm-a-Mac ad. The producer says he wrote the script before Google bought YouTube, which is why an anthopomorphised MySpace makes an appearance (as opposed to YouTube). The Linux guy should have been based more on Linus Torvalds or Richard Stallman. Unix is like Stallman. The Google hacker guy is not really my image of Google (but what do I know). Perhaps what the Mac is experience is a kernel panic. IMHO, the video could be improved by incorporating a Spinning Beachball of Death as the end.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Linux adoption milestones and notes

I've been very busy but when I have some time I'm trying to get to where I can use Linux most of the time.

It has been a month now since Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala came out. I was refreshing the download page and wondering where it was as midnight approached. When it did appear, my download was expected to take an hour. As new Ubuntu users crowded onto the servers, the reported time gradually lengthened to over 24 hours, so I started some bittorrent downloads, which followed the opposite pattern: near infinite download time at first, but as more and more peers acquired copies the download time shrank to a handful of hours. I eventually downloaded 8 or 9 versions of Ubuntu:

  • Ubuntu 9.10
  • Ubuntu Netbook Remix
  • Ubuntu Moblin Remix
  • Kubuntu 9.10
  • Kubuntu Netbook Remix
  • Xubuntu 9.10
  • Edubuntu 9.10
  • Ubuntu 9.10 PPC
  • Ubuntu 9.10 alternate installer
By the way, since that time, I have also downloaded 5 versions of Fedora
  • Fedora 12 i386
  • Fedora 12 PPC
  • Fedora 12 XFCE
  • Fedora 12 LXDE
  • Fedora 12 i686 live
  • Knoppix 6.2
--none of which I have not yet tried. I have tried all of the versions of Ubuntu except PPC and the alternate installer, which really isn't a version.

Somehow I have not downloaded the new OpenSuSE, perhaps because I went there to get the PPC version and was annoyed that they had stopped making an official PPC version (although there is a daily build).

I did some experimenting on the Little Sucker (an eee 4g). I tried installing Moblin on its SSD flash memory drive. It took 2+something GB. Good size. Liked it more at first but the GUI is a little too chunky and weird. Icons are overlapping with other icons, but it works and is snappy. I like GRUB 2, too. I tried Ubuntu Netbook Remix but didn't like the behavior and look. You can't (easily) turn off netbook-launcher, and it's actually a very inefficient use of space compared to the non-netbook-remix, requiring more clicks to do anything. I also tried Kubuntu Netbook Remix, which I'd recommend if your screen is big enough. It requires 576 pixels of vertical space, and didn't work on the 4G because I couldn't use alt-click and drag to move windows and had to use tabs and try to guess what was offscreen in the installer, which didn't work and wasn't going to lead to a good outcome anyway. I also tried Xubuntu on the Little Sucker, installing it on a USB flash memory stick. It looked good and worked well, too. I didn't want to run it off the protruding stick, though, so it was just a test. I installed the regular Karmic on the SD card and have booted that most of the time. Grub 2 lets it see the other installs on other media regardless of what media you boot from, unlike the way it would give an error and quit before. That's a huge improvement.

On my other Asus, Little Puppy (Eee 1000HE) I upgraded to Edubuntu 9.10 on a whim and a prompt, and promptly lost Skype sound. Other system sounds seems OK. I'm waiting for a system update to magically fix it, or a new version of Skype, or in the worst case I may just have to knuckle down and figure out how to fix it.

I managed to finally install a Linux distro --Edubuntu 9.10-- to the Mac Mini (Macmini3,1), and have it boot correctly from rEFIt, which chainloads GRUB2 in the BootCamp partition. It also downloaded the driver for the display, so the Acer H223HQ came into full use. It also downloaded a wireless or ethernet driver (one wasn't working initially; I forget which one). It looks great; better than the Mac OS because you can customize it to your needs. Mac is like a shiny (capsule) hotel room owned by a huge chain whereas Linux is more like having your own place to live. It can also see the Macintosh HD and all of the files on it except for the users home folders, so I have made a top-level documents folder in MacOSX to be better able to access it from Linux. There were a few problems. One is that shutdown and restart do not work properly. You need to power off with the power switch after it hangs in shutdown limbo. That may not be a big problem because with Mac and Linux I often let the computer go a month or two without rebooting. Sound wasn't working, either--until today. I haven't tried, but printing is also likely to be useless since the Canon Pixus 990i (AKA i990 outside Japan) is reported as "paperweight", the worst possible status, on the Linux Foundation's OpenPrinting database.

I may have to carry a list of "Perfectly" Linux-compatible printers and go shopping for a cheap replacement. This also explains why I can't go cold turkey into Linux immediately without putting all of my dux in a row.

Today I found the magical incantation to get sound working, and it was gratifying to experience loud and clear sound. The solution came from Victor Costan and was stated as
To get the sound working, add the following line to /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base
options snd-hda-intel model=imac24
Many thanks for that!

Starting from zero, you may think that you'd search for the file, open it, modify it, and when saving it, if not authorized, you might be prompted to authenticate, right? Well, it doesn't work that way. The unstated assumption in this instruction is that you would know to open a terminal and type
sudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base
save a copy of it as a backup to a safe location,
then add the line
options snd-hda-intel model=imac24
and save (overwrite) the file alsa-base to its original location in
before rebooting and enjoying sound.

Ideally, it shouldn't be necessary to do this to get sound working. It would be easy for a new user to make a mistake or just give up before getting this far. Also, if it were easier, the distinction between newbie and experienced Linux user would start to erode, like the popular OSes. Finally, the assumption that every user should or would know to authenticate on the command line as superuser and designate an application and a path to a file to be edited in order to edit alsa-base is expecting too much of new users (or old users or potential users). Linux has a long way to go.

I tried out Yahoo! Zimbra Desktop and Thunderbird for the MacOS on the Mac Mini, too. I'm pretty hooked on Apple Mail and would like to find a worthy replacement. These two are both cross-platform and available on the Mac (unlike Evolution--I think). Zimbra works well with my unused Yahoo accounts (no problem using the 2 accounts) and it works with Gmail, too, but I couldn't get Hotmail working yet. Thunderbird didn't work either although it works well in Linux for me. I probably gave up troubleshooting too soon. I already know that it's not quite as easy as Apple Mail.

Since browsing and word-processing are handled well in Linux, E-mail and podcasts are my main daily concerns. I'll try the default music manager, which I guess is still Rhythmbox, and explore a few alternatives for managing podcasts and iPod support (until I get a Sandisk). I hope F-Spot, Picasa, and/or DigiKam can replace iPhoto.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Supercomputing with Penguins

I hadn't realized that most of the world's supercomputers were running Linux (as of June 2009). When did that happen? Apparently between late 2003 and early 2004 Linux began to displace the Unix memes from their virtual niche in the supercomputing ecosphere. I don't know the history, but the shift is so fast it suggests that Linux became more efficient and was adopted en masse by supercomputer admins. Or I suppose it could be a licensing thing. Anyway, Linux was adopted because it was better for one reason or another.

Victory over all in the supercomputing field doesn't necessarily mean Linux is headed for supremacy on the desktop, but it's still a good sign. By the way, has some interesting charts, historical graphs, and tables you can generate.

Windows 6.1: You're gonna hafta pay for that!

A few days ago I remarked to a friend how strange it was that Microsoft had come out with a new monolingual operating system in 2009, ten years into the age of multilingual operating systems. But after that I wasn't so sure if it had been 10 years --or more like 8 or so. Was I exaggerating?

Then I stumbled across a multilingual version of Windows 7 that only costs $219.99. OK, Windows IS available in a multilingual edition for a price. I suppose that's only for a single license, so if you had a few computers lying around, you'd need to multiply that by 2 or 3. Or by 20 or by 500 if you are a school. Too bad that most of the teachers in most of the world's schools barely make that much in a month--or a year.

Designed for people who want it all
Windows 7 Ultimate is the most versatile and powerful edition of Windows 7. It combines remarkable ease-of-use with the entertainment features of Home Premium and the business capabilities of Professional, including the ability to run many Windows XP productivity programs in Windows XP Mode. For added security, you can encrypt your data with BitLocker and BitLocker-To-Go. And for extra flexibility, you can work in any of 35 languages. Get it all with Windows 7 Ultimate.

$219.99 also doesn't compare very well with the $29 Snow Leopard which you can slap onto as many of your Intel Macs as you like without much bother (just keep buying Apple hardware and they won't mind). It compares even less favorably to free Linux or BSD.

So how long have most operating systems been multilingual? A quick google at Apple Mac OS X in Wikipedia shows 10.0.0 was multilingual, released on March 24, 2001. Well, excuuuse me, that was only 8+ (but almost 9) years ago.

Mac OS X version 10.0, code named “Cheetah”, is the first major release of Mac OS X, Apple’s desktop and server operating system. Mac OS X v10.0 was released on March 24, 2001 for a price of US$129.

What about Linux? Distrowatch records Debian 1.1 as a multilingual operating system at the time it was released: 1996-06-17. So in this case it was over 13 years ago. Split the difference, and we're now roughly a decade into the multilingual OS era--with the exception of laggard Windows. Other Linuxes such as (Open)SuSE 6.0 was multilingual as of 1998-12-21, Mandriva (Mandrake at the time?) on 2000-01-14, and YDL 2.0 as of 2001-05-17, just behind Apple. As far as I can tell, BSD was a bit slower to catch up, but a multilingual FreeBSD 4.9 was out on 2003-10-28. These are just a few popular and older examples I picked at random.

What's more annoying about MS is that they market it as some kind of high-end luxury premium purchase, rather than a free and natural choice to use your own language(s) with no fuss. "Hey there, big spender!" "Yo, fancy pants, you want to pay for THIS!" The caption is "Designed for people who want it all". It's bundled with encryption. Right. Of course, people who want to use another language or more than one language must be arrogant, epicurean, big spenders, AND encryption freaks. Probably spies.

If you really "want it all", the ability to compute in your own language (or two), encryption, compatibility, interoperability, and your money and self-respect, get Ubuntu, Fedora, or one of the (gnu)Linux (or BSD) operating system software distributions referenced above. As always, I'd recommend a major distribution which is free and which supports a wide variety of processors and languages, and which has a user-friendly desktop environment. These conditions are not met by the Bills and Steves of the world who did us the favor of bringing personal computing to us from their garages in the 1970s and 1980s (and who reaped the rewards in the 90s and n00ties). We're grateful for that, but it's time to graduate to Linux.

Walking through Akihabara today, I noticed how the place is changing. Although there are bigger, newer buildings and train lines, the electronics stores are being replaced by more places to eat and stores selling anime-related items, game software, and kiddie-oriented stuff. It didn't look high-tech to me at all today. I could see it as more of an old, baroque Turkish market or something taken from the pages of a 19th-century Sears catalog. Here and there were computers advertised as having English (or sometimes "Enblish") installed. One store had a wordy, crowded signboard advertising its English computers. Another annoyance was the iPods everywhere. Shopkeepers, it doesn't distinguish your store if you have the same iPods in the window that the other 500 stores have. I was looking for a SanDisk player and would have spent time and money in any store that had one, but I guess I'll just save time and buy it on Amazon without checking it out in the material world first since the time I spend walking around looking for one to handle is getting to cost more than just buying one to try out. ThanXmas is on the way, so one can always give it away in the spirit of the seasoning. As twilight fell, the harsh ugliness of the city faded and the beauty of the contemporary and future e-waste and its fetishists in the city's autumn air began to emerge as the anthropogenic lights began to shimmer. I JRed home.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why DOES the sun REALLY shine?

They Might Be Giants, setting the record straight!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

iBus is superB

iBus seems to work exactly as it is supposed to. I take back everything I said about it. Earlier troubles may have been attributable to the Asus 4G, the earlier version (Alpha 5 image) of Karmic, or most likely something I did wrong. Fedora 11 and Ubuntu both use iBus, although there is a slightly different way of configuring it. Fedora works more intuitively in my opinion, and also cues you to log out and back in to start using your changes to iBus.

Also visible: the clunky install options of PC-BSD. That's deceptive because the actual way to install is not through the Add/Install Software Panel. It is more similar to MacOSX or Windows: download the pbi from and then double-click to install.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

gnu/linux/bsd notes and VirtualBox (on MacOSX)

One of the new features of Karmic (found in Alpha 5) is iBus. "ibus" is supposed to allow you to switch input modes on the fly, so that if you suddenly find you need to input some Korean or Arabic in your document --like maybe an address-- you can just toggle into the desired input method and type it in. Previous methods would require you to download the language support, reboot your computer (or session?), re-open the application and document, etc. I was unable to get iBus to work( present an input toggle or selections), however, and after an hour or so of messing around with variations of the settings, I tried installing ye olde SCIM-Anthy and SCIM-Canna as input methods. They worked, so I will stick with them for my Japanese input needs. That may make Ubuntu a final solution (!) for the eee 4G, although it is still getting internet connect speeds that randomly drop from around 300 k to 29 k, or about half the speed of a a dial-up modem.

I wanted a second OS to use on my Mac Mini as I slowly wean myself away from my main OS of MacOSX. After I decided on PC-BSD, the installer worked fine, but it was unable to boot. The live disk of it was also unable to boot, so maybe there is a hardware incompatibility. The rEFIt bootloader sees the BSD and Linux residing on an external HD, and hands off the boot process to the PC-BSD bootloader as I think it is supposed to, but the PC-BSD crashes and burns with multiple dumps, panics, fatal errors and other entropic events expressed in Linux terminology beyond my comprehension and troubleshooting range. Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 5 wasn't booting, either. OK, didn't want that on here anyway. OpenSUSE defaulting to 800x600 on a 22-inch monitor pissed me off. Don't want that here either since I have openSUSE as an startup option on the family Fujitsu a meter away. I have already used Mandriva, too. I wanted to learn more about Fedora, so plan B (or was it C or D by this time?) was to install that. I put it on the same external hard drive as the BSD (different partition of course), and although the rEFIt sees it (and BSD) and I can select the Linux (Fedora) partition and I did install the bootloader in that partition for Fedora, the PC-BSD bootloader takes over at this point, crashing and burning as always. That bootup issue could probably be fixed, but the Fedora installation also borked MacOSX on the mini's HD. Supposedly, the mini HD wasn't touched. I was able to fix it in 20 or 30 minutes with the Snow Leper Install Disk > Disk Utility>Repair Permissions and Repair Disk, but I didn't appreciate the borkitude. Fedora could be good, but as far as a viable free open source replacement candidate that would even run on the MacHardware without killing all competing operating systems, I wasn't having much luck here. Furthermore, when Karmic Alpha 6 was released, I downloaded it and burned a live disk to see what was new there. After running the live disk, MacOSX was borked again! I get the Apple logo and about 24 spins of the meat-grinder clock thingy and then a no-parking symbol replaces the Apple icon in the same lovely off-white-on-white of the apple logo. A circle with a slash, sort of a universal sign for zero or null. "I got nuthin," says Apple. That's not supposed to happen. I don't think the internal drive was even mounted, but maybe I did something wrong. Anyway, the Ubuntu Karmic live CD IS an Alpha, and carries a warning not to be used on "production machines" since it is a "beta" (er, even though it's an alpha) so maybe I was foolish not to heed the warnings. I was able to recover it to bootability again the same snowleperly way, but this leaves me in the position as a Linux adopter and Linus promoter (who probably hasn't converted anyone yet) where I cannot in good faith even recommend that someone use a live disk to see what Linux is about, because that may render their drive unreadable! Bad Ubuntu! You animal! And Mac, "You so delicate!"

Plan E/F or G: Give up on the whole dual/duel boot/boot idea and go for virtualization. Think different, outside yet inside the VirtualBox. I had already downloaded Sun's VirtualBox, and after a few false starts (they say you can use an iso as the image source but I found the physical disk works better) I got it up and working. It seems to be very stable. I 'm impressed. PC-BSD, which didn't work on the real hardware, works on the virtual hardware simulated by VirtualBox. Fedora 11 64-bit and Ubuntu 9.10 Alpha 6 are running along in their bubble universes, too. There's no reason to really run all three VMs at the same time; this is just for testing and demon-stration porpoises. Internet works. My Wacom tablet mouse behaves kinda spastically within the VMs, so I may need to adjust it here or there or just add a different and more generic mouse. Next steps would be to try printing, set up some shared folders to exchange data in and out of the virtual OSes, maybe resize the virtual monitor resolutions. The Acer H223HQ i have is 22(?) inches at 1920x1080 so there is plenty of space for OS windows but not Windows OS if I can avoid it!

Despite the self-evident advantages of virtualization, it is a little sad to see the three free open source operating systems under the dominating heel of the MacOSX, like unfortunate zoo animals shot full of PCP and dropped into a virtual reality for the amusement and use of the zoo-goers. But, on the other hand, since MacOSX is not one of the virtualization options (supposedly, anyway), that's the only way you are going to see the MacOS running alongside linux, BSD, Windows, etc. for free. AFAIK.

(Sorry about the low resolution of the severely jpeg'd images. Will investigate photo-hosting alternatives. The native Mac version of Firefox is in the upper left, others are labeled.)

I've commented again on the difficulties and hurdles to Linux adoption. Linux newcomers are called newbies or noobs, but that shouldn't be necessary, as the OS should not require expert knowledge (if it's ever going to get beyond 2% market share). I mean, the noobs should not have to apologize for being new to Linux so much as developers may need to apologize for not yet having the OS ready for Gramma. Not that anyone really needs to apologize for anything, but it shouldn't take hours of re-training to start the computer, for example. I've said before that more things need to be push-button easy so that a user just needs to know enough to push the right button as opposed to, say, entering long strings of commands at the terminal. Boot-up has been the biggest problem for me. Right now it's as if when your name tag fell off at a conference, you suffered complete amnesia-- or disappeared. That shouldn't happen because your identity should be intrinsically and holographically embedded throughout your being. As the new up-and-coming OS, Linux needs to play nice with pre-installed systems. Windows has MBR, Mac has GUID, Linux needs something that supersedes those and is backwards compatible. Easier said than done, I guess. If I am going to complain, I may be obligated to do something about it myself, to the best of my abilities, but all I can do is call attention to that and submit my opinion that it needs more attention.

I think Linux adoption will be given a big boost by Moblin, GNU's Hurd, and especially Google's involvement in consumer Linux with Android and Chrome. It's not only big global companies like these that want to break free of dependence on the Microsoft monopoly (and its twin dwarf control-freak Apple), but also foreign and domestic governments (Brazil, China, India, Russia, France…), educational institutions, individuals, non-profits, and so on. In other words, I think the demand and driving force is there if it is not throttled by the difficulty of uptake and conversion. The Linux/GNU landscape will probably change drastically in the next 1-2 years due to the new developments I mention, and aided by netbooks and cloud computing. That will be a bigger change than the arrival of Ubuntu on the scene a few years ago. I could be wrong about working with other OSes: maybe the best way forward is to ignore them and develop devices that work better than Windows/Mac and just network well with those older devices.

BTW, I've just learned about Lubuntu: it doesn't just exist in my imagination. Among the advantages of this distro are the relative ease of pronunciation of this 'buntu, and its use of the "Lube" prefix signifying ease of entry, at least among English language users. Lubuntu Lucid Lynx is going to be great, mark my words. (linux-mag, developer, download)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Man on the Moon

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has photographed the site of Apollo 12 in November 1969. NASA's LRO mission page dated 09.03.09 (probably =09†09•03º) shows that the tracks left on the moon by astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad during their 2 moonwalks are still visible. There is also a picture of the Surveyor lander, which they landed near. There is also a nice map of the landing sites, in case you've forgotten (or never knew).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

An Alternate History of Steve Computer

Everyone has heard of Steve Computer, but few know the tangled history of the company.

For example, did you know that early in its life, the company was known as "Apple Computer"? As funny as this sounds to us now, this name was used for a short time until "Apple Computer" lost a lawsuit and had to cease use of the name and pay a large settlement to the estate of The Beatles.

"That was like a good kick in the balls," Steve Jobs says. "We lost most of the company and our capital in that fiasco. I probably would have remained a money-oriented corporate asshole if that hadn't happened. Woz and I had to go to Plan B."

Plan B, as it turned out, involved renaming the company. "Steve Computer" was suggested--initially as a joke--but they liked the geeky, garage sound of it, and the name stuck. As Steve Computer lost control of the "apple" logo in a related lawsuit, they were able to get trademark control of the "iBomb" and began using that as their corporate logo. The company's "dude, yer gettin a steve!" ad campaign gave the company a recognizable ad line, as did the "THNKDFFRNT" campaign which eliminated spaces and vowels from ad copy.

Soon the battered, yet recovering company had a new hit with their MacKweeN. The MacKween, or "Mac" as it was called by some, used the MacKween operating system, or "Mac OS". The name tempted litigation, a peculiar habit of Mr Jobs, but attorneys for Steve McQueen lost Steve McQueen vs Steve Computer in a 5-4 decision by the US Supreme Court, recognizing Steve Computer's argument that consumers were unlikely to mistake the actor for a computer or its operating system. This argument was used again when the 1998 Steve e-1dr or "Steve e-wonder" as it was commonly called, was released, but the company pre-empted any talk of a lawsuit by offering Mr Wonder free lifelong technical support.

Legal troubles returned when company co-founder Steve Wozniac announced on December 31, 1999 that every MacKweeN contained software for making free phone calls to anyone anywhere in the world. Telecommunications and internet services were gradually restored to most countries in stages over the next three months, and Mr Wozniac received a full pardon from outgoing President Bill Clinton, and only ever served 6 months of his 150-year sentence.

In recent years, the MacKweeN OS has been replaced by SteviX, a more modern operating system, in all of the company's products. The Steve eNiX Music Jukebox runs on SteviX, but can also be installed on other operating systems. As you know, iBomb (also known as the Steve iBomb Musix Jacker) is a ubiquitous tool of the younger set. When plugged into a non-Steve computer, the iBomb partitions the drive, installs the SteviX operating system, and initiates file sharing of all music found on the player and the pre-existing partitions. Although SteviX is free and propagates virally, the company survives through sales of hardware and subscriptions to its "MacCloud" service. The release of the StEpHoNeY smart-phone has also boosted the company's profits and begun to heal the long-festering rift with the major telecommunications carriers.

SteeveeDeeveedee, Steeveemoovee, Stephoto, and GrungeBand are have been added to the company's software lineup in recent years. Older software titles include the movieviewer QuitTime and the Rastafari internet browser. Nummerz, Keyhole, and Pagers form a rudimentary office suite.

Steve Computer is not the only enterprise of co-founder Steve Jobs. Pixelator, a movie company he purchased, made a big splash with its first movie, Destroy a Toy, and subsequent hits, Scar, Destroy a Toy, Too, A Bug File, Gokiburi, The Incredulous, Year of the Light Buzz, and LARR+E. In a surprise move, Mr Jobs succeeded in a hostile takeover of Disney Inc, abruptly closing all of their theme parks and donating the land to non-profit, non-governmental educational organizations. Other Disney holdings were liquidated or released to the public domain.

It certainly seemed like a big setback at the time, but if Steve Computer had never lost their fight over the name of a fruit, they may have never joined the ranks of the other major computer makers: Tandy, Amiga, and Atari.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

KludgeLab '09: The Cruft Report

I found that there is a name for something that I do. It's called retrocomputing. I am not really a maniac in that respect, and I think I have the number of computers down to the high single digits (two hands) now. After losing my main Tea-Ching gig in March, I brought a lot of things home, which have helped to congest the third floor. Recently I managed to re-arrange the kibble into a more open structure which allowed human access and movement. Actually, what I did was create The Apple Lounge and Museum of the PowerPC Mac. The 2003.11 iLamp 20" joined a 2002(?) eMac and 2 candy slot-loading DVD iMacs (Tangerine and Lime) from around y2k. Boy, that PowerPC sure helps keep the room warm. It will be nice and toasty up there in the winter. Come to think of it, it could probably be modified to heat up a kotatsu table--I have one up there! Not sure how many kilowatts it is drawing. You also won't leave the iLamp on, because you can hear the fan roaring incessantly from adjacent floors through the night.

In accordance with the principle that every computer have a free open-source operating system onboard (sometimes in addition to Windows or Mac OS), I updated the iLamp's 10.5 (Leper) OS (the eMac's "AirPort" card shares ethernet with the rest) to the latest revision. Apparently you should NOT attempt to resize any icons on the desktop while it is installing the updates. Or maybe it would have froze anyway. I had shrunk the desktop icons down to 16 pixels to accommodate a large number of files which were once kept there. Now that they are gone, I thought I would enlarge the icons, so I took a look at them at 128 pixels. That was a bit too crazy, so I scaled it back to 64. At that point the Installing Updates progress bar froze and remained froze until I returned about 24 hours later and gave it a hard reboot. Unfortunately, the hard drive was unrecognizable and unrepairable by the Mac OS or any other live disk that I tried with the exception of an Ubuntu (8.10?) live disk, which was able to see and copy many of the files on the Mac. That restored some of my faith in Ubuntu after that buggy netbook remix stuff back in April. One problem was that most of the files in my home (user) file were not read because I didn't have permission; Linux, Unix, and MacOSX are similar in that way and won't let you read other users files. Maybe MacOSX encrypts them? And even a Music folder I created at the top level of the hard drive was not permissible for me to read, since the folder was managed by the autocratic iTunes app. I think I was probably 20 minutes of googling, reading, and a chown command away from getting it, but it could have taken a day or two as well. It's mostly been backed up, but I made a note to use Mac OS X less and also back up all files on simple USB drives formatted FAT32 so they have no journaling or permissions and so on until I figure out the details of that.

I reformatted the 80GB iLamp HD into two equal partitions for MacOSX10.5 (the last Mac OS for ppc) and Linux. I gave Yellow Dog Linux the first crack at it. The Enlightenment (E17? or E16??) desktop looked stunning in 20-inches. However, after spending most of the day unsuccessfully trying to enable Japanese input, mp3, flash, and encountering a cumbersome package management system (just choose "office and productivity" with no granularity???) I deleted that OS. I think I tried Fedora, Berry, and openSuSE, but either they didn't boot up or weren't live disks. Xubuntu was my eventual choice for a few reasons. It was the only Ubuntu-family release for ppc that I had from 2009, and its requirements are so low that it could work on the older iMacs if it worked on the iLamp. I love it. Xubuntu looks great and it works great. I think installing the OS, updating the packages, enabling Japanese input, installing mp3 and Flash codecs all took under an hour or close to it. If you are looking for a free open souce OS to replace the soon-to-be-discontinued support from Apple, I'd recommend Xubuntu. The other machines in the Apple Lounge (& PPC Museum) will probably get Xubuntu or any smaller distro with a build for the ppc, which is multilingual with Japanese language support, a pre-built desktop and a live disk to try it out.

Another problem was that my Eee PC 4G (AKA 701? the one with the webcam) suddenly lost its ability to connect to my wireless network. Mandriva had just worked on the Eee but now it didn't. Well, it was a boring OS anyway, so I thought it was time for a change. However, wireless failed on other OSes, too. Either it showed a connection which was very very slow so that even the Google search page would fail to load completely, or it showed many local wireless networks but not mine, or it didn't show any wireless networks. Had some change I had made to the network caused this? Probably not, since Windows, Mac, and Linux (Ubuntu) machines all connected. Had the kernel been updated and broken the connectivity? Probably, but oddly, live install disks that had worked earlier no longer were able to connect: Mandriva no viva. OpenSUSE no use. Jaunty jaundiced. Fedora que hora? Vine? Rotted thereupon. Firmware or the BIOS or something? I never did figure it out after 2 days working mostly with an partially successful but s-l-o-w wireless (but fast ethernet) EEEBUNTU 3.0 install. Somewhere on a forum I read "the issue has been resolved with Karmic" and decided to download the Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala" NetBookReMix Alpha 5 release (candidate?) as it turned out. What did I have to lose? So far, that has been working! I'm glad because the 9.04 U.N.R. didn't run smoothly on the 4G and had some other bugs which made it unusable. If you are experiencing the same broken wireless bug on the Eee PC 4G, which I suppose is a kernel incompatibility with the Atheros wireless thing, try Karmic! I am not so confident that it will keep working, though. My DSL speed has been around 300kbps, but at times as slow as 60.

All this troubleshooting makes me think a couple of things. First, Ubuntu and Linux in general is not going to get beyond the 2%-5% of the population who are tinkerers or computer hobbyists. If it is push-button easy, you have a chance that the user might push it or click it at the right time. A self-healing, self-diagnosing OS would be better. It's harder, but that's the point when it could take off. Command line, forget it. It's nice to have it there, but the OS has to develop to the point where users can go years without resorting to command line.

Second, Ubuntu seems to update stuff too much and break the functionality. Once I have the system tuned and working as I like, I had better turn all but security updates --and even then it could break it. An OS that is a little more stable and conservative might be better.

more free e-books on Free Open-Source Software

There is a lot of overlap here, but the corroboration and triangulation can be useful. LinuxLinks has a list of the 20 best free Linux books, in the editor's estimation. has a reading list with several good titles on Open Source and Free Software, such as Open Sources, Free as in Freedom, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, and Free for All. Some of the titles on this list look good, too.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Portable Audio Players for Linux…?

I was wondering what portable audio players would be good for interoperability with GNU Linux-based OSs, and according to CNET's MP3(!) Player Finder, the SanDisk Sansa Fuze is about right for me. It comes in 4 or 8 GB sizes, but I would take advantage of the fact that it accepts microSD cards and put a 16 or 32 GB microSD card in. Note that it also can record audio. And has FM. Supports WMA, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, and FLAC. Seven of your top 50 reasons for hating Apple right there.

Actually, it looks a bit on the large size for me. I like tactile controls (such as those of the iPod shuffle) so I can operate it by touch in the pocket of a shirt or jacket. Assuming it will also work with Linux (both reviews omit mention of that OS), the Clip+ might be better.

The big news with the Clip+ is the addition of a MicroSD card slot, which is capable of accepting SDHC cards, currently available at up to 16GB. At press time, a 16GB card was about $40, which means you could conceivably get yourself a 24GB flash player for around $110. That's an absolutely incredible deal.
It may be time for a walk through Akihabara.

Going Local in NM (Back to the LAN)

Apparently, this guy --Doug Fine-- is on NPR (and has been on CNN at least once) but I haven't been listening to NPR for a year or so, so I must have missed him... but I read this reprinted in The Daily Yomiuri. A longer version is on his website.

Here is a 2008 interview in "Smithsonian" and a critical look at the capital requirements of his kind of simplicity from Alternet.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance

The whole 1982 film is on Google Video in what seems to be a fairly low resolution (because it's a very cinematic movie). You can download the whole mpeg4 after it loads in the browser, too. I think in Wikipedia or somewhere it was suggested that this was a "cult film". I must be a member of the cult, then. It isn't really about Hopi prophesy despite the title and some carefully selected Hopi wisdom. To me, it is a document of life in the United States in the early 1980s from an unusual point of view. Too cinematic and nonverbal to be anthropological, but perhaps it could be described as late 20th century America as seen and captured by a Hopi anthropologist visitor from an alternate timeline?

You may be able to find it on YouTube, but I'm informed it is blocked in my country "due to copyright restrictions." Too late for that kind of talk now that Google handed me the mpeg4.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I think I remember what I did this summer

A record amount of time has passed since my last post. Among other things, such as grading and getting a fifth part-time job, I've been traveling to Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Takayama, and Minakami. I posted pictures on Facebook and caught up with an 8 month backlog of pictures. Facebook and iPhoto software had changed since the last time I used it. I am using a Mac Mini as my main computer and even bought Snow Leopard to install on it. I don't think I ever boought a new Mac OS so soon before. The Quicktime is good. They should have bundled that in instead of asking users to buy a "Pro" license from the start. Actually, since I have been converting to GNULinux(and/or BSD), I finally decided on PC-BSD as the free, open-source OS for the mini, but I have had a heck of a time getting it to boot properly, so I think I will give up on BSD for the moment and install Fedora on it instead. Everything will be dual-boot except the eee 4G, which is Mandriva-only. OpenSuSE has gone on to a Fujitsu used by the family. I recommend OpenSuSE if you need to recover the MBR to boot your Windows properly after a botched Linux install. (This page was for SuSE, not openSuSE, but installing OpenSuSE replaced the bad GRUB.) At our house, Ubuntu (8.04) screwed it up, and OpenSuSE fixed it up and installed a much prettier and easily customized bootloader. The Eee 4G worked perfectly with Mandriva while traveling around; I could check train schedules, maps, and travel-related information. The eeexperience of Ubuntu on the 1000HE is good so far, too. I will put Yellow Dog onto the iLamp and set up a "Remote Station" for some "wired clients" on the third floor, to make use of my spare AirMac Extreme Base Station.

I should probably use more debian-based distributions since they are more community-supported rather than business-supported, possibly slightly. Here are some notes about that:

software package management

ubuntu 26000 jp ppc
debian 25000 jp ppc
crunchbang 23000 - -
dreamlinux 23000
mint 23000
sidux 23000 jp -ppc
elive 20000

openSUSE 22000 jp ppc
mandriva 20000 jp -
arch linux 15000 - -
fedora 8000 jp ppc
yellow dog ???? ? ppc

Notes are about major Linux distributions, the number of packages, whether they support Asian languages and particularly Japanese, and whether they have a PowerPC processor build of their distribution.

This was interesting:
GNUveau Networks builds solar-powered Linux computer networks for remote villages (video)

FreeGeek in Portland Oregon offers something productive to do with your used computers (or your free time).

Some free reading materials:

Free Software, Free Society by Richard Stallman

At the Duke University Law department's Center for the Study of the Public Domain you can read about the legal and social issues surrounding Fair Use in comic book form as html or as a pdf. There is an introduction by Cory Doctorow. The title is Bound By Law.

Hackett and Bankwell #1 is a free pdf ebook about converting a small business to Linux. It can be downloaded from "teh intarwebz". Issue 2 seems to have gone missing, though.

Teach the Children Well
I downloaded the (Fedora-based) Sugar-on-a-stick:strawberry OS for OLPC, Foresight Linux for Kids, LinuxKidX, and Berry (not really a kid-oriented distro but is Japanese and English). I am thinking of trying Qimo, too. These should work for kids age 3 to 10. We wouldn't want them to grow up using Windows, Mac, or other corporate proprietary software, would we? (link)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Place in the Sun

I love the sun. (I try to stay out of it, though.) Go to the SolarSoft site to see if there is a tiny solar physicist inside you struggling to get out. Get advance warnings on your cell phone in the event of the sun exploding. No, they don't offer that service. (What good are they, then?) Guess what the "LMSAL" stands for.

Everyone has their own place in the sun--should you choose to have your remains shot into the sun upon your demise. However, they'd probably be vaporized and blown back into deep space before they got to the sun.

Today's award for best (hottest?) background on a solar physicist web site goes to Mauna Loa. This totally beats standing outside and staring into the sun--plus it is available 24 hours a day and night.

Solar is also easy on the retina. Never attempt to examine the sun directly with your eye(s) and a powerful optical magnifier.

You can also check the space weather news if you plan to be "outside" (the earth's atmoshere).

SCIM-Anthy Nihongo Input in Mandiva on the eee pc 4g

I monkeyed around with the little sucker (eee pc 4G) today and finally got the Japanese language input working. I'm not sure exactly what I did, but I never touched the command line. I found some things I may not have installed from reading a post by another Mandriva/Nihongo user. Then I tweaked the many settings in their control panels and tabs until something clicked. I accidentally created some nonfunctional ghost icons in the top menu bar in the process, so I have a new problem to solve.

I remembered that I only tried Mandriva because it supposedly worked best with the eee pc, as reported here, and Ubuntu (Netbook Remix) bugged out on me. I was thinking about the Distro Selectors, and I think simply visiting Distrowatch, popping opn a page for the major distros, opening those in tabs, and then closing tabs as you eliminate options is a simple way to choose. In my case, if I open those options listed in my earlier post, and eliminate those distros which do not meet my other special needs: being multilingual, having Asian language support, and having a build which runs on the ppc processor architecture (too), then only Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE are worthy. Even Mandriva is knocked out--but I'll make an exception since it is so simple (too simple?) and runs so well on the eee. If I couldn't get the Japanese input working, I was ready to trash Mandriva and try Fedora.

Other people probably have the same issues as me. In other words, you may need to stick with a major distro because it's more likely to have the extra functionality you need, altho in some cases you will get that from a customized distribution like eeebuntu. I have to admit flux-flux for eee was the most visually attractive one I've run yet, but some functionality was missing.

I think I'll stick with what I've got and keep an eye on developments in PC-BSD, Moblin, Android/GoogleChrome, and other up-and-coming fringe OSes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Linux: Live Free or D.I.Y

Perhaps it was because of the report of Google planning to release an operating system that I began to reconsider my Linux choices. I had to stop using Ubuntu on my eee 4g due to sluggish display and a bug that erased all menus. It now runs Mandriva, but Japanese input still is not functional. My eee1000he runs Ubuntu 9.04 OK. I think Google's OS will be a hit since they will have Chrome on Windows, on MacOSX, and they will have their own Linux platform to stick under it, so they don't need to rely on anyone else's good will and will cover everyone who wants to use it --very much unlike the exclusiveness of Apple. The Chrome browser will be the platform upon which to build all other functionality. Having said that, though, I have to admit I threw out Google Chrome (in Windows) for being so huge and for crashing more than anything else. Still, I wish them the best. They will shake up M$ and probably steal market share from Apple, too. Maybe Apple will finally make some urgently needed changes to their closed MacCultOSh mentalITy.

I was interested in the newest Moblin release (see video)(until I found it got some baad reviews and is not ready yet) and learning more about FreeBSD or PC-BSD (more Unix-y than Linux-y)(but probably too advanced for meee). That led me back to some Distro Selectors again (I found a new and useless one) and to look into those other distros more. But I think I will stick with what I have now, or perhaps replace Mandriva with another Linux on the little sucker (4g).

Distro Choosers

Distro Name… Is it free? Geared toward… Runs well on older computers
Vector Yes Intermediate Yes
Ubuntu Yes Intermediate Maybe
Mandriva Yes Intermediate Maybe
We found these matches, sorted by how well they match:
95% Mandriva ( )
May not be suitable because: Your computer may be too slow
Mandriva Linux (formerly known as Mandrake Linux) was created in 1998 with the goal of making Linux easier to use for everyone. Mandriva offers all the power and stability of Linux to both individuals and professional users in an easy-to-use and pleasant environment.
[That's if I say I want to put it on a Mac.
If I say "PC", …
We found the following perfect match(es):
100% OpenSuSE
The openSUSE project is a community program sponsored by Novell. Promoting the use of Linux everywhere, this program provides free, easy access to the world's most usable Linux distribution, SUSE Linux. OpenSUSE delivers everything that Linux developers and enthusiasts need to get started with Linux. Hosted at, the project features easy access to builds and releases. It also offers extensive community development programs for open access to the development process used to create SUSE Linux.
(This distribution also has a "Live CD" you can use to test the distribution before you install it)

In addition, we found these matches, sorted by how well they match:

95% Mandriva
Mandriva Linux (formerly known as Mandrake Linux) was created in 1998 with the goal of making Linux easier to use for everyone. Mandriva offers all the power and stability of Linux to both individuals and professional users in an easy-to-use and pleasant environment.
Visit Mandriva at: May not be suitable because: Your computer may be too slow

95% Linux Mint
Originally launched as a variant of Ubuntu with integrated media codecs, Linux Mint has now developed into one of the most user-friendly distributions on the market - complete with a custom desktop and menus, several unique configuration tools, a web-based package installation interface, and a number of different editions. Perhaps most importantly, this is one project where the developers and users are in constant interaction, resulting in dramatic, user-driven improvements with every new release
Visit Linux Mint at: May not be suitable because: Your computer may be too slow

95% Ubuntu
Ubuntu is a free, open source operating system that starts with the breadth of Debian and adds regular releases (every six months), a clear focus on the user and usability (it should "Just Work", TM) and a commitment to security updates with 18 months of support for every release. Ubuntu ships with the latest Gnome release as well as a selection of server and desktop software that makes for a comfortable desktop experience off a single installation CD.
Visit Ubuntu at: May not be suitable because: Your computer may be too slow
A fork of Mandriva designed to appeal more to slightly-more-experienced users. A power-user's distribution. Perfect match!
An up-and-coming source based distribution. Pardus comes with 3.4 gigabytes on software on one CD, all of which runs faster than normal, thanks to several unique features. Perfect match!
PC-BSD PC-BSD is based on FreeBSD, and comes with everything you need for a FreeBSD desktop. Perfect match!
SAM Linux
SAM Linux is a fork of PCLinuxOS that uses XFCE to be even faster that normal. Perfect match!
Linux Mint
Based on Ubuntu, Mint comes with a more refined out-of-the-box program selection, along with some extra configuration utilities. Perfect match!
If PC is a few years old and you are looking for an easy to use distribution to install on your hard drive then try
Fedora or Suse
Well, alrighty then. I'n not a Pole nor am I ready to polish my skills yet, but I found another opinion:
1. Mandriva Linux
2. Ubuntu Linux
3. openSUSE
4. Fedora
5. Debian GNU/Linux

Summarizing the combined (robot) recommendations::
Linux Mint:_**_____
SAM Linux:__*______

So maybe I'm already trying out the most reasonable options, but those selectors did not ask the questions I need to ask.

Some guidelines I have tried to establish for myself:
• Use Linux wherever possible (install on all computers --to get used to it).
• Maintain dual-boot of proprietary OSs when:
--already bundled for free
--space allows
• Use Windows or MacOSX for access to apps without available equivalents in open-source, such as Garageband or Songsmith
• Use open-source software (or at least cross-platform apps) across all 3 platforms. Prefer Firefox (or Opera) to Safari and Explorer. OpenOffice default office suite. GIMP before PhotoShop.
• Prefer a Linux distro with ppc as well as eee support for maximum compatibility. (as many processors supported as possible, unlike Windows and Apple) -OR- Experiment with 2 different distributions? (if not too confusing?)

In practice, I'm using MacOSX alot since I still prefer Apple Mail to Thunderbird on a daily basis. iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and iDVD are also quite compelling and hard to replace. The Mac Mini is my desktop and Asus my laptop(s). The Mini will get a Linux install eventually, but I haven't even organized the files on it yet.

Personal Checklist Questions for before and after Installation:
Asian Language Support? (JP)
Keyboard recognized (all keys)?
Japanese Input OK?
Wireless working?
Sound Output OK?
Sound Input OK?
Skype included/working?
MP3 plays OK?
YouTube (flash video) plays OK?
Volume keys work OK?
Brightness keys work OK?
Function keys all working?
Printing works?
Video output works OK?
Sleep/hibernate/etc works OK?
Scanning works?

I found a free Ubuntu book as a PDF. Keir Thomas has a clear writing style and is aimed at beginners. Thanks, Keir!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Chinese Recycling Program

And you thought Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were bad...

Prisoners of conscience --especially young healthy Falun Gong practitioners-- can be worth $60,000 for just one organ. I'd heard of this before but not looked at the documentation.

The Canadian MP and human rights campaigner didn't have much trouble confirming that Falun Gong (Qi Gong meditation group) members were being executed on demand to fill the needs of foreign visitors paying for organ transplants. You can just call up hospitals all across China and ask them. They will tell you that that is what they do. No problem.

An excerpt:

Phone-call transcripts from the Kilgour-Matas Report

1. Call to Dr. Lu, Nanning City Minzu Hospital, Guangxi
M: "...Could you find organs from Falun Gong practitioners?"
Hosp: "Let me tell you, we have no way to get (them). It's rather difficult to get it now in Guangxi. If you cannot wait, I suggest you go to Guangzhou because it's very easy for them to get the organs. They are able to look for (them) nation wide. As they are performing the liver transplant, they can get the kidney for you at the same time, so it's very easy for them to do. Many places where supplies are short go to them for help..."
M: "Why is it easy for them to get?"
Hosp: "Because they are an important institution. They contact the (judicial) system in the name of the whole university."
M: "Then they use organs from Falun Gong practitioners?"
Hosp: "Correct..."
M: "...what you used before (organs from Falun Gong practitioners), was it from detention centre(s) or prison(s)?"
Hosp: "From prisons."
M: "...and it was from healthy Falun Gong practitioners...?"
Hosp: "Correct. We would choose the good ones because we assure the quality in our operation."
M: "That means you choose the organs yourself."
Hosp: "Correct..."
M: "Usually, how old is the organ supplier?"
Hosp: "Usually in their thirties."
M: "... Then you will go to the prison to select yourself?"
Hosp: "Correct. We must select it."
M: "What if the chosen one doesn't want to have blood drawn?"
Hosp: "He will for sure let us do it."
M: "How?"
Hosp: "They will for sure find a way. What do you worry about? These kinds of things should not be of any concern to you. They have their procedures."
M: "Does the person know that his organ will be removed?"
Hosp: "No, he doesn't."

2. Call to Shanghai Jiaotong University Hospital’s Liver Transplant Centre:
M: I want to know how long [the patients] have to wait [for a liver transplant].
Dr. Dai: The supply of organs we have, we have every day. We do them every day.
M: We want fresh, alive ones.
Dr. Dai: They are all alive, all alive…
M: How many [liver transplants] have you done?
Dr. Dai: We have done 400 to 500 cases… Your major job is to come, prepare the money, enough money, and come.
M: How much is it?
Dr. Dai: If everything goes smoothly, it’s about RMB 150,000… RMB 200,000.
M: How long do I have to wait?
Dr. Dai: I need to check your blood type… If you come today, I may do it for you within one week.
M: I heard some come from those who practise Falun Gong, those who are very healthy.
Dr. Dai: Yes, we have. I can’t talk clearly to you over the phone.
M: If you can find me this type, I am coming very soon.
Dr. Dai: It’s ok. Please come.
M: … What is your last name?...
Dr. Dai: I’m Doctor Dai.

The military, like the health system, has gone from public financing to private enterprise. The military in China is a conglomerate business. This business is not corruption, a deviation from state policy. It is state sanctioned, an approved means of raising money for military activities. In 1985, then President Deng Xiaoping issued a directive allowing the People's Liberation Army units to earn money to make up the shortfall in their declining budgets.

Many of the transplant centres and general hospitals in China are military institutions, financed by organ transplant recipients. Military hospitals operate independently from the Ministry of Health. The financing they earn from organ transplants does more than pay the costs of these facilities. The money is used to finance the overall military budget.

There is, for instance, the Organ Transplant Center of the Armed Police General Hospital in Beijing. This hospital boldly states:

"Our Organ Transplant Center is our main department for making money. Its gross income in 2003 was 16,070,000 Yuan. From January to June of 2004 income was 13,570,000 Yuan. This year (2004) there is a chance to break through 30,000,000 Yuan."

Military involvement in organ harvesting extends into civilian hospitals. Recipients often tell us that, even when they receive transplants in civilian hospitals, those conducting the operation are military personnel.

Somebody should make a data bank of the transplanted organ's DNA and some day the origins of many of these could be cleared up, matched with surviving family members.

I love China (all of the Chinas, including Taiwan, and the whole greater Sino-Tibetan entourage, especially the Dalai Lama;-), but this religious-freedom-suppressing organ-salvaging military-funding transplanting practice should be brought to an end. The report contains very clear and targeted proposals for how Canada et al should respond.

Some people will criticize China heavily for this, but I don't think it's really something to bash the Chinese for. First of all, that's not productive, and secondly, it's the logical result of (1) having the death penalty (like many of the United States & Japan); (2) encouraging organ donation (many countries and states are in the process of trying to make the process 'Opt-Out' rather than opt-in); (3) having policies of rounding up people on the basis of their political and religious beliefs and holding them indefinitely without charges or trial (like the Americans' Soviet-gulag-style camp at Guantanamo Bay which holds, indefinitely and without charge, political prisoners apprehended worldwide who are considered too dangerous to be left free). In other words, it really isn't much different from other beliefs and practices which we accept (and the direction in which other cultures are drifting). It is just combined and extended further. It wouldn't be all that surprising if this becomes the practice in the United States. How does a prisoner guilty of the September 11th attacks repay the victims? If the death penalty is employed, why wouldn't you auction off the organs of the 9-11 terrorists to executives of AIG or someone to raise money to compensate the victims of terrorism? Perhaps Mitt Romney will make it part of his platform when he runs for president. I'm not defending it, just saying we need to see that we are cleaning up our own act at the same time.