Category: Tech

The Zappas on Video Games

The benefits of being a pack rat:

Sharkey posted this on his blog in...according to the date stamp, November of 2002.

I remembered it a couple days ago and I thought, you know what? I bet I don't even have to dig through old hard drives to find it. I bet my obsessive process of backing up data and copying it over from old computer to new has survived two new computers, four different Linux distributions, and I don't even know how the hell many hard drives. (I am, after all, the guy who corrupted his hard drive when he installed Windows 98 and recovered the data in 2008.)

Anyhow, I was right. Sitting right here on my current computer, after all those moves.

(And then I get to thinking, "Wait...I've only gotten two new computers in the last decade?" But then I remember no, there's also the Mac Mini I used to have hooked up to my TV and now use as a backup server, the Win7 desktop I currently have hooked up to my TV, my laptop, my phone, my tablet, and assorted old towers that have managed to pile up in my office and get used occasionally for various purposes. Plus my wife's desktop and two laptops.)

You know, just the other day my coworkers were talking about Hoarders, and I commented that the nice thing about being a digital packrat is that the data I've been holding on to for decades doesn't take up a hell of a lot of space. My comic collection, on the other hand...

Anyhow, not the point. The point is, here's Innerview: The Zappas on Video Games, by Merl H Reagle, JoyStik, January 1983. Scanned by, and from the personal collection of, Scott Sharkey, and preserved through over a decade's worth of computer migrations by packrat Thaddeus R R Boyd.

Innerview, Page 1Innerview, Page 2

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, that games were already being scapegoated by politicians and the media for juvenile delinquency as far back as 1983.

I also love the story of Frank recording the noise in an airport arcade and then listening to it on the plane. I think he also tells the story in The Real Frank Zappa Book -- that or I've been misremembering where I read it for the past decade.

(Christ. An interview from 30 years ago which I've been copying from hard drive to hard drive for one-third of that time...)

Props to Perry

There's a lot I don't like about Rick Perry -- about his state, its legislature, his party.

But as I noted a few weeks back, that legislature just passed a landmark E-Mail privacy bill.

And last week, Perry signed it.

Obviously, in the intervening weeks there have been some stark reminders about why government snooping on E-Mail should be reined in. And I'm sure that informed Perry's decision.

But the bottom line is, he did the right thing. At this moment in time, the governor of Texas has a better record on E-Mail privacy than the President of the United States.

There are moments -- they're rare, but there are moments, like this one -- where I see the Republican Party live up to its promise. Where it demonstrates that it can defend individual liberties from runaway government. That I think, y'know, maybe they've got something here. Maybe they can be a force for good.

And then I see a photo like this one
Pat Robertson and Donald Trump
and I'm like, "Oh, right. Republicans."

But what the hell -- Jonathan Strickland, the guy who sponsored this bill and, I assume, the son of Hank Hill's boss, is 29 years old. He'll be around long after those two assholes are dead. If guys like him and Derek Khanna represent the future of the Republican Party, then it's a future where I could maybe someday see myself aligning more with the Republicans than the Democrats.

They're really gonna have to do something about that whole anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-poor people, anti-science thing first, though.


(And I really should be careful about that "Republicans I'd consider voting for" label. I voted for McCain in 2004 and look how that turned out.)

(I also voted for Jan Brewer in 2006. Though in my defense, I was misled into believing I was voting for Janet Napolitano.)

(Come to think of it, the "Democrats I'd consider voting for" list hasn't gone so well for me either.)


Photo courtesy of Talking Points Memo, as linked by Mark Evanier.

Sanity from Texas

The Texas legislature's passage of a landmark E-Mail privacy bill is something of a Nixon-goes-to-China moment: nobody is going to accuse Texas of being soft on crime or caving to the ACLU.

Perry hasn't signed it yet, and there's still a chance he could veto it. But the nice thing about having a Democrat in the White House is that Republicans suddenly remember that government invasions of privacy are bad.

I've been saying for years that Republicans had real potential to reverse some of the excesses of the post-9/11 security apparatus, if only they would realize they could use it as a bludgeon against Obama and still keep their reputation as the Tough On Terror, Tough On Crime, Strong On National Security Party.

(In this case, of course, "post-9/11 security apparatus" is an oversimplification, as current computer privacy law dates back to 1986. Still, I think my point stands.)

Perry's still got the opportunity to continue on with the status quo. But there's a real opportunity here. We're living in a nation with a toxic mix of archaic technology law and cutting-edge surveillance techniques, and opportunists in both the public and private sector who are all too happy to exploit the disparity.

Broken Windows

You know, I'll say one thing for Windows:

Every single time I have a problem with Linux serious enough that I start to contemplate how much easier life would be if I just used Windows, Windows finds a way of reminding me that no I really wouldn't at all.

I don't know what happened to my HTPC. I suspected file corruption, but chkdsk /f came up clean; waiting on /r right now. Sincerely hope there's nothing wrong with my hard drive; I've reinstalled enough OS's in the past few weeks. And anyway, I've run chkdsk and it's come out clean.

It worked all right when I sat down. A little sluggish bringing up Colbert, and the lipsync was off for a bit, but it self-corrected and played all right. Right up until the end, when VLC hung and then everything else hung.

I did a hard reset; the system hung again, solid hard drive light, and I saw something I've never seen before: when I hit Ctrl-Alt-Delete, it stalled and eventually pulled up an error message saying it couldn't bring the Ctrl-Alt-Del screen up.

Repeat this stuff over a few reboots and iterations, some Safe Mode, the erroneous theory that last night's AVG update was responsible...you get the idea.

No idea what the fuck is wrong. Tired of this shit. Why must all my computers fail at once?

I'm typing this on my laptop. Which I haven't upgraded to the latest version of Ubuntu yet, because I don't need one more computer to break.

Prenda Law Circles the Drain

In light of the recent excellent news of the legal sanctions facing copyright troll Prenda Law, here are some things I wrote on the subject a couple months ago. Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2013-03-07, 2013-03-12.


...so have you guys been paying attention to the Prenda Law case? Because it's pretty amazing.

Prenda Law is one of those copyright trolls that sends people threatening letters alleging that they've illegally downloaded porn. The idea is that people would rather pay a settlement than be a named defendant associated with downloading porn.

It's extortion. Which is bad, and was bound to catch up with Prenda sooner or later.

But that's actually the tip of the iceberg. Popehat has an exhaustive rundown, but the highlights are that Prenda Law is most likely run by people who own the rights to the porn videos in question and who have not disclosed that interest, and also they appear to have stolen a guy's identity and named him as their CEO. (He's suing them.) The lawyer who's been representing them in court appears to be distancing himself from the organization now and blaming his bosses for everything; the judge seems righteously pissed and has dropped the word "incarceration" into his list of potential sanctions.

A followup post indicates that the company's entire business strategy appears to be to buy up cheap rights to porn movies that are cheap because they're frequently pirated, and then pursue pirates, ostensibly to reduce piracy and increase the value of their investments.

I'm just astounded by the combination of stupidity and balls involved in this scam. I mean, at least people who run Ponzi schemes put some effort into appearing legitimate.

I understand the greed part. I just don't understand how they thought they could get away with it. Like I said earlier, if all they'd done was shake people down for blackmail money they could have gotten away with just having their business shut down; it's the layers of incompetent and half-assed fraud that are really breathtaking and liable to lead to disbarment and possible incarceration.

I am very much looking forward to seeing this organization dismembered and its corpse hung out as warning for all the other copyright trolls and would-be copyright trolls to see. Some prison time for the principals would be a bonus.


The bad news just keeps piling up for Prenda; now its owners/lawyers are facing potential disbarment and criminal investigations.

Popehat has lots more under the prenda-law tag, and Ars Technica has plenty under the tags intellectual-property and lawsuits.

KDE under Mint

Still sitting up in the ER with my wife. She's sleeping and I've nothing else to do, so here goes, a post about my ongoing Mint experience that I mostly banged out yesterday:


I've got KDE running under Mint, behaving mostly the way I like my desktop to. There are a lot of fiddly little things that just don't work quite right for some reason -- Alt-Tab works, but Alt-Shift-Tab doesn't; the taskbar is just slightly too big and I can't drag icons to reorder them even though it's explicitly set to manual order; the themes are all slightly off from what I'm used to (Oxygen is too bright and Oxygen Cold is too dark); and I'm typing this in gedit because Kate won't let me type in documents where the lines go above a certain number of characters. I'm sure all these problems are fixable -- and hey, maybe if I'd just installed Mint KDE from scratch instead of starting with Cinnamon and then adding KDE, I wouldn't have had them in the first place --, but it sure has been a fiddly pain in the ass.

In short, despite the problems I've had with it, I'm inclined to believe the hype that OpenSUSE really is the best KDE-based Linux distribution.

So for now I'm keeping it installed, running updates from a chrooted YAST every day, and hoping one of them will eventually fix the damn thing.

Trying to Fix OpenSUSE

After spending my Saturday banging my head against the wall trying to get my OpenSUSE installation working again, I spent my Sunday just reinstalling the damn thing -- aware the whole time that the result might be exactly the same thing happening next time I run an update.

I went to the effort to get OpenSUSE up and running again because I quite like it. All that shit I griped about yesterday on how difficult it is to find configuration options in Mint? Simply not the case in OpenSUSE. It's true that OpenSUSE has two separate control panels too, like Cinnamon does, and that one is for interface configuration and the other is for system configuration -- but both of them are a whole lot more comprehensive than what Cinnamon's got, and it's way easier to find what you're looking for. And OpenSUSE's package management is simply the best I've ever seen -- it doesn't have quite as comprehensive a selection as Debian/Ubuntu/Mint/et al, but it's pretty close, and -- perhaps most importantly of all -- it doesn't just give you an error when there's a dependency issue, it gives you a list of choices on what to do about it.

It's also got smooth-as-hell one-click package installation, though in Mint's defense, it supports that now too and I had a breeze setting up RSSOwl (the only program I've set up in Mint that wasn't in the default repos, and which was a monumental fucking hassle setting up in OpenSUSE).

Anyhow, I got OpenSUSE back up and running. Eventually. The first problem was that when I burned the 12.3 disc and tried to boot it, I got my old friend the frozen "Select CD-ROM Boot Type" prompt.

You know what's a bad sign? When you plug an error message into a a search engine and the third match is your own fucking blog. On the plus side, Thad From Four and a Half Months Ago told me how I got around this the last time: I stopped fucking around with the install DVD and tried the LiveDVD instead.

Then I made a mistake -- but it turned out not to matter. I forgot to set NoScript to allow JS on the 12.3 download page. And so I couldn't see any downloads except the main installer. The LiveDVD's right on the page, and so's the Rescue CD, but I couldn't see the damn things.

I poked through the Wiki and wound up stumbling onto the KDE Reloaded LiveDVD instead. Now, on the plus side, contrary to the "11.3" number and "Last Modified 10-Aug-2010" note on that page, the LiveDVD is current as of January of this year. On the minus side, it's kind of a damn mess, it leaves you with a weird hybrid of 12.1, 12.2, and Factory repos, and, well, it wouldn't have been my first choice if I'd been a little more awake and alert and noticed the damn NoScript notification.

But I found out later that the LiveDVD and the Rescue DVD both lock up too, so I would have wound up trying the KDE Remix eventually anyway. And it did work, sort of. And I found out some good things and bad things about restoring a broken OpenSUSE installation.

The good part: if you've got /home on a separate partition, OpenSUSE will use it without formatting it; all your settings will be preserved. I backed it up just to be safe, but I didn't need to; it was completely untouched.

The bad part: I found out the hard way that YAST's backup feature doesn't back up your repo list, which makes it pretty much goddamn worthless if you have a lot of software from third-party repos. Which, y'know, is the only damn reason I backed up my packages in the first place. Reinstalling packages from the default repos is time-consuming, but it's trivial. What I was worried about was going through the hassle of installing stuff like that outdated version of xulrunner that I need to get RSSOwl to run. So I guess I know for next time that I need to back up my list of repos separately.

Anyway, I got OpenSUSE working for a day or so.

And then the first time I ran mplayer X dumped me to a console and now it won't restart.

So I'm sorta back where I started, except getting an entirely different set of errors, which near as I can tell aren't related to any nVidia driver conflict like last time.

I like OpenSUSE, but I may be fucking done with it. I would really rather not reinstall it again.

I don't know for sure where I'm going from here. But I do know I'm going to start a KDE install on Mint.

Minty Fresh

I've been giving Linux Mint a shot.

Now, OpenSUSE is still my primary distro (for now -- more on that in a minute), but I've kept my old Kubuntu drive onhand, originally because I've got OpenSUSE on a 128GB SSD and could use another drive with some extra storage, but over time I also learned how useful it is to have a second Linux distribution installed for those times OpenSUSE craps out. (More on that in a minute.)

So when I swapped in a new drive, I put Mint on it, as that's a rapidly growing distro and the one a lot of disgruntled users seem to be checking out since the releases of Unity and GNOME 3.

My first reaction is that the default installation looks pretty and clean. 'Cept maybe the menu, which is too busy.

And my next reaction is that there's a pretty good complement of programs installed...up until I open the terminal and find that vim is not included. Yes, I realize it only takes a minute to install, but I'm one of those guys who is immediately suspicious of any distro that doesn't come with vim out of the box.

My next reaction is my usual complaint about GNOME: it's just not configurable enough, and the various configuration options are spread across too many different places.

You can choose themes in five separate categories -- Cinnamon Themes, Window Themes, Cursor Themes, Icon Themes, and GTK+ themes -- and you can mix and match among those, which is good. But I don't see anything as simple as a color chooser. Your colors are determined by your themes. Want your panel to have a widget style like Nightlife but a blue highlight on the active program like in Blanka Teal? Tough; can't be done. Want to use Adwaita for the window theme but not want the active titlebar to be the same fucking color as inactive title bars? Can't do that either; if you're going to want a colored titlebar you're going to have to go with one of the more oldschool/minimalist window styles like Atlanta or Metabox. (Or hunt for themes online, a thing which I don't really ever do because I find them almost uniformly to be worse than the ones bundled with the DE.) For extra kicks, you can combine the Mint-X GTK+ theme with the Atlanta, Bright, Metabox, or Simple window themes and get a color scheme where the active window title text is white and inactive windows' title text is black.

Oh, and there's also a "keybinding theme" under themes, which is bullshit because keybindings are not fucking themes. This unfortunately seems to be a trend in Mint/Cinnamon -- cramming shit sideways into categories it doesn't really belong in because the designers apparently can't figure out where else to put it. Want to make Mint stop playing a sound at startup? It's under Login Window -> Accessibility. Yes I had to fucking look it up.

Special Bonus: Login Window is one of many settings that does not appear under either the Cinnamon Settings or System Settings panel. Why the fuck are there two different control panels that between them still don't have an exhaustive list of configuration options? Who the fuck knows. That's rhetorical, by the way; I'm sure if I asked some GNOME developer would be happy to point to the usability study that demonstrates this is an awesome fucking idea and anyone who complains about it is objectively wrong and just hates change.

Though speaking of hating change, if you want your taskbar to look exactly like Windows 98-XP's, then Mint is the distro for you. Menu in the lower left, Show Desktop button, QuickLaunch bar, list of open programs, system tray.

Prefer to move it to the top, or change it to a GNOME 2-style top-and-bottom split? Totally doable.

Want to stick it on the left- or righthand side of your screen because oh, I don't know, you bought your computer monitor sometime in the last five fucking years and it has a 16:9 or 16:10 screen ratio? Too fucking bad; you're going to have to find a third-party panel if you want some of that action.

And I think that's my biggest gripe about Cinnamon: the stated goal of the project is to make GNOME 3 behave like GNOME 2. Which is fine if you liked GNOME 2, I guess, but it's ultimately subject to the same sort of design philosophy that users shouldn't have too many choices in how their computers look, feel, and behave (and many of the choices they do have should be hidden in bizarre, inexplicable, inconsistent places).

That's why I'm still a KDE guy -- and it's also why I was still a KDE3 guy for years after the release of KDE4. (4 still hasn't caught up to 3 in some obvious and fundamental ways -- really simple shit like being able to drag a launcher from the menu to the panel. And I'll hand that much to Cinammon: it does that, which puts it ahead of KDE in at least one respect.)

And while I was easily able to find a widget to switch between workspaces, it only has 2 by default, and I can't find anywhere to change it to 4. Maybe it's in there somewhere, or maybe it's not because of Cinnamon's GNOME 3 underpinnings -- I remember that GNOME 3 has an arbitrary number of workspaces, starts with one and adds more as you drag programs to them.

I did see an interface where I could drag a window to another desktop -- repeatedly and accidentally, until I turned off the hot corner. Have I mentioned yet that I fucking hate hot corners? I've got this thing about interface elements that appear by accident, when I'm trying to do something else.

I could probably set up a hotkey to bring up that screen without using a hot corner, and I expect it'd be useful -- and maybe give me some clues on how to have more than 2 desktops. I'll look into it. But binding it to a keypress is not in the same control panel as setting it to a hot corner, and I'm going to have to look up where to find it.

Oh and also the package manager is both slow and hideous.

Anyhow, well, I've been spending rather a lot of time with Mint, mostly because I broke OpenSUSE. It started with an nVidia driver update, but after I reinstalled my kernel it turned into a kernel/init/systemd problem. It's been frustrating as fuck and ate up pretty much my entire weekend. Eventually I just decided to reinstall outright -- and I'll tell that story tomorrow.

Whatever happens, I'll keep Mint around as a backup boot. But the way it is, I couldn't use it as my primary OS -- not without installing KDE on it, at least.

For Future Reference

For the next time I get locked out of X after an nVidia upgrade:

The OpenSUSE package for nVidia drivers for a GTX570 is x11-video-nvidiaG03.

The OpenSUSE package for the nVidia kernel module for a GTX570 is nvidia-gfxg03-kmp-default.

This Week on "Nobody Involved with Bones Gives a Fuck Whether Computers Behave in a Remotely Rational or Coherent Fashion"...

...somebody gets an E-Mail -- "probably spam" -- and it allows Angela to decrypt every encrypted E-Mail she's ever gotten.

This somehow manages to be the stupidest thing in an episode about a mutant virus injected into a blogger with a microneedle that, still attached to her skeleton, then manages to jab one of the interns and infect him too.

Well maybe next week's episode will be less stupid.

...wait. Season finale? Fuck. That means another Pelant episode.

Well, maybe they'll finally just fucking shoot him and next season's premiere will be less stupid.