Tag: Linux

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.

Linux is Ready for Your Dad

Well, maybe not your dad. But mine, at least.

My dad's in town -- I'm getting married, you see -- and asked me if I could get him a computer to use while he's here.

All I had lying around was an ancient Dell Dimension 8230. I suck Win7/32 on it.

And then found out that the audio didn't work. For Dad that was a deal-breaker.

I opened up the box (and was surprised not to get a cloud of dust to the face -- I don't remember blowing it out, but I must have, and fairly recently) and determined that the sound card is a Creative SB Live, model number CT4780. And that there's no Windows Vista/7 support for it.

I found a third party driver at kxproject.com, but it hadn't been updated since 2009 -- and didn't work either.

So at this point I asked my dad if he wanted me to install Windows XP on his computer, and probably wait the better part of 2 days for all the patches to download and install, or if he'd rather I put Linux on it. He said to give Linux a shot. (He'd used it for a little while at home when his Win7 installation was giving him trouble and a friend installed it for him.)

I settled on Xubuntu for a machine of that vintage. The install was quick, it had a checkbox for non-free software (including Flash and MP3 support), and it seems to support all the hardware out of the box -- including the sound card. And it runs faster than Win7 did.

Now, my dad's not a gamer. He doesn't even use Office. All he needs is a browser and Flash.

Which is of course true of an increasing number of users -- hell, Google's selling a $1300 laptop that just runs a browser. So it's not like this is a major bombshell or anything -- but it's still an interesting shift, no?

ownCloud

My post on Unison remains one of the most popular things on this site. (The FF7 Trilogy remain my most popular posts, the ROM Collection Browser post is far and away the most popular hit on the site this month, and a number of people seem confused, as I was, by Netflix's reorganization of Doctor Who -- but Unison's still way up there.)

Well, I rebuilt my computer a few months ago, and I've opted not to go back to Unison. The main reason is that I don't just have Windows/Linux/OSX machines in the house now -- I've got a phone and a tablet both running Android now, and I'd very much like to be able to sync to them, too.

(Yes, okay, so Android is also Linux; good observation, gold star. It is technically possible to run Unison on Android. It is also, as far as I can discern, as big a pain in the ass as you would expect.)

I've decided to take a crack at ownCloud, and set my overworked G4 Mac Mini up as a server. It was a quick, easy setup, and a lot less fiddly than Unison (though it took a little bit of fucking around on the command line to enable SSL), but it's got its tradeoffs -- oddly, near as I can tell the desktop client can only set directories to sync, not individual files, while the Android client can only set individual files to sync, not entire directories.

And speaking of syncing with the Android app, it took me a day to figure out how to get it to sync in the first damn place. The sync toggle is under the system Settings menu, not, for some reason, anywhere in the app's interface, and it turns out that in order to set a file to sync, you have to upload or download it first, and then tap it in the ownCloud browser, and then there's a "Keep file up to date" checkbox. It's not exactly what you'd call discoverable, and the closest thing I can find to documentation is a damn YouTube video. (Can we talk for a minute about tutorials that are only available as videos? For my money, that trend fucking sucks. I mean, videos are great for some things, like showing you how to take apart a piece of equipment, or shave, or otherwise do something that's easier to watch than read about -- but much of the time, step-by-step instructions with the occasional illustration is a far superior method of walking someone through how to do a thing.)

So, not quite perfect. And there are some other pitfalls -- the filebrowser in the Android app can't seem to access the directory with my World of Goo save to sync it, SNESoid save files use a different extension than desktop SNES9X...plenty of rough edges that aren't actually ownCloud's fault but the fault of developers who didn't consider that users would want to sync save files across multiple systems. (It looks like you might be able to sync a file under a different name on the Android client than on the server; I'll look into that but I'm also thinking of switching from SNESoid to SNES9X EX on my phone and EX+ on my tablet. So far it looks like it's a lot more flexible than SNESoid, and while EX+ is too burly for my phone, EX runs all right once I turn off graphics filters, set scaling to integer-only, and turn on the GPU Sync Hack. Save states aren't compatible between versions, but of course save RAM is. As for World of Goo...maybe I can whip something up with symlinks or something; I'll look into it.)

And it's a pity there's no way to set up an automated wireless sync with my PSP.

More Triple-Boot Trouble

Getting Chameleon to run properly on my Mac Pro 1,1 continues to elude me. I've followed all the steps on the Netkas forum precisely, except that I made a smaller boot partition (because 1GB is just silly and I assumed that was only required because that's the smallest that OSX's Disk Utility will allow). I guess the next thing to try is swap in another hard drive and give it a 1GB boot partition and see if that works -- and then I guess I can start asking questions on the forum because I'm just about stumped.

Meantime, when I've got a helper card in I can boot OSX from EFI but not from GRUB -- meaning I can't boot it 64-bit. Windows definitely seems more crash-prone when the helper card is in and DirectX is running. If I pop the helper card out, I can boot OSX from GRUB (either 32- or 64-bit) but it's unstable as hell that way and a significant number of programs just hang when I try to run them; for some reason I can't boot OSX from EFI without the helper card. (Even if I hold Option at boot, arrow over the correct number of spaces, and hit Enter to boot from the OSX drive, it doesn't.)

There are other bootloaders designed for OSX but none of them seem to be as well-documented for use on genuine Apple hardware as Chameleon.

It's a pain in the ass, is what it is. This is an impressive damn machine, but I sure can't see buying another Mac anytime soon.

Insufferable is Awesome

I got a Nexus 7 for Christmas. As you might expect, the first thing I did was root it. The second was to get all my usual apps -- E-Mail, RSS, emulators -- set up and working. The ones I'm used to from my phone.

But the third thing? Comics.

I've been very excited about Mark Waid's digital comics endeavors for years now. He gets it. Release your books in DRM-free standard formats, and treat pirates like they're potential customers instead of treating your customers like they're potential pirates.

In a nutshell, I'd been waiting to get a tablet just for the opportunity to see what it was Waid was up to.

Well, for starters, his books up on thrillbent.com are just straight-up free downloads.

Want to download all of Thrillbent's marquee book, Insufferable, by Waid and artist Peter Krause, for free? (Hint: yes. Yes you do.) Here's a simple, handy bash script to do it:

for((i = 1; i <= 9; i++)); do wget http://www.thrillbent.com/cbz/insufferable/Insufferable_0$i\_Mark_Waid_2012.cbz; done for((i = 10; i <= 34; i++)); do wget http://www.thrillbent.com/cbz/insufferable/Insufferable_$i\_Mark_Waid_2012.cbz; done

And presumably next week #35 will be out with a "2013" in place of that "2012" in the filename and it'll go on from there.

From a nuts-and-bolts storytelling perspective, Insufferable is a perfectly compelling superhero book. It's a Batman pastiche, but I happen to like Batman pastiches. (I often say that my all-time favorite Batman comic is Astro City: Confession.) The setup here is, loosely: What if Nightwing was a total douchebag?

It follows that moment of the sidekick -- named Galahad, in this case -- striking off on his own, no longer able to work with his mentor (Nocturnus). And Galahad isn't the class act that Dick Grayson is -- he's an insecure, spoiled celebrity. Nocturnus, meanwhile, has seen better days; he's something of a has-been and is now superheroing on a budget.

That, by itself, is enough for an intriguing, human superhero yarn. Insufferable would be a thoroughly enjoyable book on the strength of good old-fashioned traditional comic book storytelling.

But instead, it innovates. Waid and Krause make a point of doing things with a digital comic that can't be done on paper. Frames appear one swipe at a time; characters' facial expressions change. In one case, Nocturnus does the classic Batman entrance -- in one panel, the room is empty; swipe your finger and suddenly he's just there. As Galahad rides off after the bad guy, he receives a tweet making fun of him. Swipe and a few retweets appear over the scene; swipe again and the screen starts to fill with them.

Waid discusses these techniques in a recent Robot 6 interview. He cites the master, Bernie Krigstein, as his greatest inspiration in thinking of panel composition as a tool for pacing.

Waid's got the right idea, and it almost always works. As I read Insufferable I keep thinking of how smart he and Krause are in their use of these techniques, how they're not flashy and they're not there just for the sake of Doing Something Different; they actually serve the story in a way that -- while original -- has its roots in decades of traditional comics.

For my money, there is one example where it doesn't quite work: repeating the same panel exactly. I get what they're trying to do -- hell, where would Bendis be without that technique? -- but while you can repeat a panel exactly on paper as a pacing tool, it throws me to see it in a digital comic. There's a simple UI design reason for this: when a user interacts with a program, the program is supposed to do something. If I swipe a page, I can't tell the difference between "the same panel repeats" and "nothing happens". My first thought isn't "Oh, that's a beat", it's "Did I not press hard enough?"

There's a simple solution -- just change something, anything, in the panel. Make somebody blink, or change a facial expression slightly -- anything at all to give the user some sort of feedback that yes you turned the page and now this is the next image.

But you know, the occasional false note is the price of innovation. Yes, I found something small that, in my opinion, doesn't quite work in Waid and Krause's book. But there's so damn much that does work, and works astonishingly well.

I've said before that now is the best time to be a comics fan. Insufferable is one more example of why. Go give it a read -- it won't cost you anything and I think you'll be glad you did.

I haven't gotten around to the other Thrillbent books yet, but I intend to. But first -- well, it's Wednesday. I've got some traditional, paper-and-toner-and-staples comics to go pick up.

Digital Demand

Two weeks ago I talked about how now is the greatest time in history to be a comics fan. Among other things, I mentioned Comixology. I've got concerns about Comixology -- it uses a proprietary, DRM-encumbered format, meaning there's a risk of a monopoly, same as any time a single major provider uses a proprietary, DRM-encumbered format -- but ultimately, I think that shit will work itself out. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned, shouldn't complain, shouldn't put pressure on Comixology and the publishers who use it to find another way -- but the music industry ultimately realized that a standards-compliant, DRM-free format was in its best interest, and the book publishers are beginning to get the message too; I think it's only a matter of time for comics. (TV and movies will be dead fucking last to get the message and will, like the music industry, wait until their bottom line has seriously suffered for their foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging stupidity, but they'll come around too.)

At any rate, those caveats in mind, I think that the recent announcement that Comixology is the third-highest earning iPad app of 2012 is a fucking good sign for the comics industry. It shows there's a big demand and it's getting bigger.

Moreover, while I've heard people express concern for years that digital comics will spell the end of print comics, they sure don't seem to be posing a threat -- which makes sense. The way I see it, people who get their comics through Comixology aren't any less likely to buy comics in print; if you've never bought a comic before, then you're not a lost sale, and if you have bought comics from bookstores or especially from specialty shops, you're not going to stop doing that just because you can get them on your iPad or what-have-you now.

For my part, I'm about to get a Nexus 7. For starters, the thing looks pretty small and I'm skeptical that it will even be satisfactory for reading comics on. Even if it is, I am confident it will not compare to the experience of reading a full-size comic.

That said, as I mentioned in that other post, there are a shitload of comics that are not currently in print, and if I find that it is comfortable to read comics on the Nexus 7, I will certainly start reading comics on it that are not available in my local comic shop.

That doesn't mean I'll stop shopping at my local comic shop. It doesn't even mean that I'll spend less money there. It just means I'll have one more way to experience comics (whether they're ones I've bought or acquired for free).

And while I love my local comic shop, it also means that people can make money selling comics to a niche audience without having to worry about print costs or Diamond minimum distribution numbers.

Ultimately, it's not a zero-sum game (except insofar as every consumer's entertainment budget is a zero-sum game). Digital comics doesn't mean the same audience gets the same comics from a different distributor, it means the potential for a new audience and different comics. And those are good things that make the medium richer for all of us.

Ze Germans

Not sure if I'll stick with OpenSUSE for the long haul or not.

I quite like YAST but it doesn't have the level of package support that any given apt-based distro does.

And it's slow. I heard OpenSUSE was faster than other KDE-based desktops, but that hasn't been my experience, even switching from HDD to SSD. Firefox routinely pegs the CPU. So does Xorg (which I think is down to my keeping LibreOffice open most of the time). RSSOwl -- which does not have an OpenSUSE package and was a straight-up bitch to set up -- is frequently slow and unresponsive (good ol' Java).

So why RSSOwl, anyway? Well, I like to keep my RSS feeds synced across my desktop, my laptop, my phone -- wherever. At the moment I'm using Google Reader for that.

I used to use Akregator, but it doesn't sync with Google Reader.

I tried Liferea, but...well, it's coded by a guy like me. A power-user who wanted specific network functionality and isn't very good at UI design. It's missing such basic functionality as being able to rename a feed (a necessity when it chokes on as simple a thing as an apostrophe -- my feed list contains "Kurt Busiek&#39;s Formspring answers" followed by "Neil Gaiman&#39;s Journal"), and its syncing with Google Reader is spotty as well.

Also its name resembles "diarrhea".

So I tried RSSOwl.

Under Ubuntu, it was simple enough to set up RSSOwl -- had to add an external repo, but that was it.

There's no repo for OpenSUSE. There's a binary download, but here's the rub: it doesn't work out of the box. It requires xulrunner 1.x -- 2.x does not work. And OpenSUSE 12.2 doesn't have a package for xulrunner 1.x.

It took me ages to find, but I found a good RPM package of xulrunner 1.9. It's for Scientific Linux, but it installed fine under OpenSUSE, and worked once I symlinked libhunspell-1.3.so.0 to libhunspell-1.2.so.0 . It throws the occasional warning when I run updates, but I've been able to navigate those just fine.

And that's another thing about OpenSUSE: YAST's options, when it runs across a version conflict on a dependency, are pretty opaque and incomprehensible (and it frequently lists the same option multiple times), but at least it gives you options. Ubuntu's package management, in my experience, just throws an error and quits when it runs across that kind of conflict. So score one for OpenSUSE there. Sort of.

Still and all, for all I like about its configuration center/package management system, I'm having a hard time seeing OpenSUSE as Worth It. Maybe when I've got some time to do yet another damn reinstall, I'll give Mint a shot, or something.


Playing: Got in some good Arkham City and Mass Effect 2 time today -- after my job interview. Working my way down that list...

Hosiery: The Re-Brokening

Welp, broke my computer again, sort of.

See, I've confirmed that the instability I've been experiencing with the ol' OSX boot is definitely due to booting it from GRUB; it works fine from EFI.

So I decided I'd give Chameleon another shot -- maybe another bootloader would be more stable? Worth a try, right?

'Cept I can't get Chameleon to work this time, and it fucked GRUB up so it won't boot anymore either. (Edit to add: Apparently an MBR disk can't have more than one bootable partition? Guess it's been awhile since I took that A+ test. So okay, it's easy enough to get GRUB working again, but it doesn't help me get Chameleon working.)

The good news is that Chameleon boots just fine from CD, so I can still boot OpenSUSE that way.

The bad news is that, for some damn reason, holding down "C" to boot from CD doesn't work anymore on my Mac, so I've had to stick the damn helper card back in to access the boot menu by holding down Option when I power up.

(The other bad news is that AVG Free decided to flag fucking rundll32.exe as a virus and delete it, but Win8 must have restored it automatically because it worked okay on a reboot. But that's all the Win8 I did today.)

Anyway. Hoping I can get this damn mess fixed tomorrow. Because I've got better shit to do than keep fucking around with bootloaders.