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.