Tag: Linux

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's Formspring answers" followed by "Neil Gaiman'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.

Buggy Messes

I had some harsh words yesterday for the EaseUS software for Mac. Mainly, it constantly locked up and didn't do much of anything.

I'm not quite ready to let EaseUS off the hook just yet, but I'm seeing that same behavior in a lot of programs now. At this point I'm pretty confident that, in setting my Mac up to run like a Hackintosh, I have wound up with a system that has all the stability and reliability of a Hackintosh.

Regrettably, I'm having much the same problem with MIUI, which I installed on my phone the other day (as something to do while I waited for diags to run on my Windows 8 drive). It's slow and it crashes like a motherfucker. I really think the monthly release cycle is a pretty poor idea; what we've got is bleeding-edge code (in this case Jelly Bean running on a phone that was never meant to support it) instead of stable code.

Which is a pity because there's really a lot to love about MIUI. For starters, it's the most paranoid OS I've ever seen -- its security settings are granular as hell; it doesn't just tell you what data your program is going to have access to at install time, it defaults to warning you at access time, too -- and giving you the opportunity to refuse.

Trust the Chinese to be thorough about who's listening in on them.

It also comes with a lot of mostly-pretty-useful programs out of the box.

Except that weather program. The one that thinks I live in some place called Temperanceville (and that's not autocomplete on me typing in "Tempe", that's the location it automatically set itself to), consistently tells me I have no network connection even though I have a network connection, and can't be uninstalled. I don't like that one very much.

So I don't think I'll be sticking with MIUI. I guess the question is whether I should just restore CyanogenMod 7 from backup, or try some other ROM.

Decisions, decisions...


I guess I was overdue for doing something monumentally stupid and sloppy, because Friday night I went to format an external 1TB hard drive and accidentally formatted my internal one instead -- the one with Windows on it.

Now, after a moment's panic, I realized that I didn't have anything vital and irreplaceable on there -- I had backups of my resume, my password wallet, things like that. I hadn't backed up my financial spreadsheets or work search log in a couple weeks, but I could reconstruct those if I absolutely had to from my bank statements and E-Mails. And I had a Mass Effect 2 save that was maybe an hour farther along than my backup.

So, nothing life-or-death. But I'd still just as soon not have to take the time to reinstall Win7, reinstall Win8, reconstruct my spreadsheets, and replay that last hour of ME2 if I could avoid it. And I knew it was just a quick format, so my data should all still be intact on the drive -- it was just a matter of getting to it.

I was booted to OSX at the time, and the first piece of recovery software I found was EaseUS. It was a free trial for a $90 piece of software. Now, I knew going in that there was no way my lost data was worth $90 to me, but I figured I'd see how far I'd get with it.

Not fucking very.

You'd think a trial for a $90 piece of software would be designed to make you think the software was worth $90. Instead the fucker just kept hanging -- I might, might get as far as it displaying all my disks and partitions, but after that (or, just as frequently, before that) it would just lock up, static unresponsive window, Spinning Beach Ball of Death, all that shit.

So then I stumbled upon TestDisk. I missed the part where it said there was an OSX version, so I rebooted to Linux to see if I could install it.

And found that my OpenSUSE boot had somehow become hosed too. (I would later find out that this was not a coincidence and that OpenSUSE actually goes into Emergency Boot Mode if it fails to load a filesystem in its fstab. I did not consider this at the time because (1) I was very tired and (2) Linux failing to boot because it can't mount a Windows drive is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever heard.)

But fortunately I still have my old Kubuntu drive onhand, and it was not only able to boot, but it already had TestDisk installed, with no worrying about having to fuck with repos. I think it may even be part of the basic Ubuntu installation.

Now, there's a lovely step-by-step guide at the TestDisk site called Recovery of Reformatted Partition.

The bad news: I spent yesterday trying to recover the drive and never did get it to work, and I'm finally giving up the ghost because it's just not worth fucking with it any longer. But I figured I'd put this up here just in case you have better luck with it than I did. I had a hard time, in my initial search, finding a good listing of Linux software to use to try and recover an NTFS partition that has accidentally been reformatted. Maybe somebody will stumble across this page in a similar search someday, and find TestDisk as a result.

Again, it didn't work for me -- but it looks like a solid piece of software, and it's worth a shot. (Unlike EaseUS, which is a piece of crap you should not waste your time with.) Good luck.

Why KDE?

I just switched from Kubuntu to OpenSUSE. I plan on writing a bit about my experience, but it occurs to me -- people may wonder why I went with OpenSUSE.

Well, the answer is because I've seen various reviews saying OpenSUSE is the best KDE-based distro -- so the question then becomes Why KDE?

I've preferred KDE over GNOME since about the KDE 2.x/GNOME 1.x era. And I think the bottom line is customizability.

I never much liked the look-and-feel of GNOME, not even in 2.x. The Apple-style system bar across the top of the screen without the Apple-style integrated menubar -- that's just wasted space.

But it could be worse. It could be GNOME 3.

Image: Wasted Space in GNOME 3

I liked KDE3 better than 4, but 4 got to the point of being passable. Even if it's still missing basic functionality like being able to right-click on a launcher to change its shortcut settings. In fact the whole "Show a Launcher When Not Running" feature (an overly-verbose version of MacOS's "Keep in Dock" and Windows 7's "Pin to Taskbar") is pretty damn broken -- I can't get it to work at all with LibreOffice. (Well, I mean, I can get it to show a launcher. Just not one that works.)

So okay. It's pretty far from ideal. But XFCE and LXDE aren't exactly rolling in GUI-based configuration options, and the simpler WM's are worse still. So KDE it is, for now.

Triple-Booting a Mac Pro: Legacy Edition

Well, it's been a pretty exasperating few days, but I've successfully gotten my old (2006/1,1) Mac Pro set up to triple boot Lion (with a 64-bit kernel), OpenSUSE 12.2, and the Windows 8 Release Preview.

First, I set up Lion. I followed Jabbawok's Mountain Lion guide exactly, with one exception: since I was installing Regular Lion and not Mountain Lion, I didn't need to alter OSInstall.mpkg to skip the motherboard check. (As far as drive bays: I put the installer hard drive in bay 1 and the Lion drive in bay 2.)

After this I found that I could only get the 64-bit kernel if I used Chameleon's flag for Safe Mode (-x). Otherwise I got a blank gray screen on my helper card and a white screen with a frozen mouse pointer on my main card. This fixed itself once I yanked the helper card -- but I'll get to that in a minute. If you've got a helper card and you're following this guide, don't remove it until you've got all 3 OS's installed and get a nice clean GRUB menu when you boot. (Or a stupid-looking light-gray-on-bright-green GRUB menu, as the case may be.)

Anyway, after setting up Lion, I set up Boot Camp and tried to install Win8 (on a drive in Bay 3). I got the ol' "Select CD-ROM Boot Type" prompt where everything froze and failed to recognize any input.

I'd dealt with this years ago when I first set up Windows 7; I had to bootstrap my install disc. I decided I would just as soon not fuck with that procedure ever again, so instead of bootstrapping Win8, I used my already-bootstrapped Win7 disc to install Win7 and then upgraded to the Win8 preview from there.

And then I installed OpenSUSE (over the Lion installer partition in bay 1).

The OpenSUSE install DVD gave me the same "Select CD-ROM Boot Type" prompt freeze, so I tried the OpenSUSE KDE LiveCD -- that one worked just fine.

And after I'd installed OpenSUSE, I found that my computer had set itself up to automatically boot straight to the GRUB boot prompt. And, better still -- it had correctly set up Windows and both 32- and 64-bit kernel boots for OSX. Chameleon was totally redundant and unnecessary by this point.

The trouble? GRUB had the same problem Chameleon had: OSX would lock on boot unless I ran it in safe mode.

So that's when I popped out the helper card.

(Don't know what a helper card is? Then you don't need to know about it. But the gist is this: my Mac Pro came with a GeForce 7300GT graphics card. Last year I upgraded to a GTX 570. While current versions of OSX do recognize the GTX 570, the EFI boot firmware does not -- so I needed to leave the 7300GT plugged in to see the boot menu.)

Once I popped the 7300GT, everything worked great -- the GRUB menu came up, and booted any of the 3 OS's without any trouble. Success!

Or at least, success until earlier today when something got fucked up and broke everything and I spent my entire day trying to fix it. Ultimately it appears to have been a weird fluke -- I think my partition table got corrupted somehow, because I found that even a format/reinstall didn't fix the problem; I had to actually repartition (the Chameleon/OpenSUSE drive) to get it working again.

So that sucked. And is the second time in two days I found myself chasing down help pages for the last line of a boot log only to find it had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual problem I was having. What a damn bummer.

The upshot, though, is that I've got a 64-bit kernel working in OSX, which should let me set up the RAIDZ array I wanted to put together for my grandmother's home movies.

And last night I played Mass Effect 2 for an hour or so without getting a BSOD. Could be just a coincidence, but I'm hoping that removing the helper card and booting from GRUB instead of EFI fixed the constant crashes I'd been having before.

Next I'll try it under WINE -- maybe I won't have to reboot to Windows at all anymore.

As for how I feel about Macs, Windows 8, and OpenSUSE...well, those are all ripe topics for another day.


Decided that, now that I've got more free time, I may as well give my computer a clean install of everything.

For OSX: Attempting to install Chameleon Bootloader so I can use a 64-bit kernel.

For Windows: Trying out the Win8 Release Preview.

For Linux: Switching to OpenSUSE.

So far it's been rocky. Something's not quite right with Chameleon and I can only boot OSX in 64-bit mode if I do it in safe mode. Haven't been able to determine where the problem is, as the last few lines of verbose boot happen whether it's in safe mode or not. If it's not in safe mode I get a freeze on a white screen, with mouse pointer visible. While I'm considering trying to upgrade from Lion to Mountain Lion to see if that fixes the problem, I've seen people report similar issues in ML and I wouldn't want to spend $20 on discovering I still have the same problem. (Plus if I switch to ML I won't be able to fall back to a regular, non-Chameleon EFI boot like I can with Lion.)

Win8 -- well, it's set up. The parts that look the way they're supposed to look pretty damn good; the icons, tiles, and fonts are all really attractive. A lot of legacy stuff -- like program installers -- looks like blurry hell, but I'll give MS the benefit of the doubt and suggest that maybe that's because I'm using a beta. Not sold on the Start Screen yet, the shit that's moved is not easy to find, and switching between Metro and Oldschool-Style programs is unintuitive as fuck.

As for OpenSUSE, well, haven't had time to install it yet. Stay tuned.

Setting Up MikG on an Evo 4G

As recently noted, I finally joined the twenty-first century and got me a smartphone. It's an HTC Evo 4G, purchased from friend and Brontoforumgoer TA, and I'm rather enjoying it. But it was a bit of a pain to set up, and, as I am wont to do when I find myself banging my head against the wall over a technical problem, I'm inclined to write up a little howto. (My #2 most popular post is the one about filesyncing with Unison. And because I know you'll ask, the #1 post is the one about FF7 mods.)

The first hurdle was that the phone was running Cyanogenmod. (So, first of all, it was already rooted. This is not a rooting guide; my phone was already rooted when I got it.) Now, from all appearances Cyanogenmod is great -- but what TA and I didn't know is that you can't activate your phone with Cyanogenmod on it.

The guy at the Sprint store suggested I unroot the phone and restore it to factory default. As I found out from a helpful thread on XDA Developers, you do not have to unroot your phone to activate it. You do have to flash it with a Sense-based ROM. (Sense, BTW, is HTC's UI.)

I found several recommendations for Sense ROMs, many outdated (and many of those unavailable for download since MegaUpload's been taken down). One that is recent and still available, and which I saw recommendations for all over the place: MikG.

Now, guides to flashing your Android ROM are legion (here's one from Android Authority), and recovery software varies, so the exact menu options may be different from one to the next. But here are the basics:

Download the MikG ROM.

Copy it to your phone's SD card.
I actually found that I couldn't mount my phone as an external drive on any of my computers when it was booted to Cyanogenmod for some reason; fortunately I was able to mount it when I booted to recovery mode -- see next step. Copying the zipfile straight to the sdcard root is probably the easiest way to go -- at any rate, don't unzip it.

Boot to Recovery Mode.
If your phone is already rooted and already has a custom ROM, like mine did, then you've most likely already got a recovery boot enabled. Shut your phone down, then power it back on, holding the Power and Vol- buttons. From here the touchscreen won't work; you'll only have access to the Power button and the Volume rocker. The rocker moves the cursor up and down, and the power button operates like the Enter key.

Back up your shit.
There should be an option to back up your system. Do this, because you're about to wipe everything out and you're going to want to be able to restore if anything goes wrong.

Wipe userdata, cache, and dalvik cache.
Seriously, this is a necessary step; do not skip it or it will fuck everything else up. Just don't do anything stupid like wipe your SD card in the bargain; you need that.

Flash the ROM from zip. That'd be the zipfile you copied to the card earlier.

Troubleshooting: Kubuntu lies. I just couldn't get the thing to flash; I kept getting errors. I found that the zip's checksum on the SD card didn't match the one on my computer, I copied and tried over and over again and even reformatted the card -- long story short, don't trust Kubuntu when it says the file has finished copying or when it says it's safe to remove the device. I don't think it's a KDE problem per se since I had the same problem using Nautilus, but at any rate -- start the filecopy and then go do something else for a little bit; give it more than ample time to copy. Just in case. I did the same thing with the unmount -- after I'd let enough time pass that I was sure the file had copied, I clicked Unmount and then waited awhile just to make sure that had happened cleanly. Patient waiting and the file finally copied correctly; MikG installed and was running.

But I still had to actually activate the thing.

Rather than take another trip to the local Sprint store (which would likely have been easier and taken less time, in hindsight), I did it through the Sprint website.

The first bit's easy enough: assuming you've already got a Sprint phone, you just deactivate that and tell them to move your number over to the new phone. You'll need to enter a serial (which you have to remove the battery from your Evo to get at), and they'll send you an E-Mail.

Follow the instructions in the E-Mail, not the ones on the website. They are not the same and the ones on the website are incomplete.

The E-Mail looks something like this (I've redacted my personal information):

You may need to enter the following information in your new phone to complete the activation process:
6-digit programming code: [...]
MDN (Phone number): [...]
MSID (IMSI): [...]

If you are programming a used phone, look in the manual programming instructions for your steps. If you don't find the instructions to program a used phone, follow the steps below to clear or reset your phone to its factory settings. Important note: This will remove all personal information, including texts, pictures, contacts, applications, etc.

To program a used phone:

  1. On the dial pad, press ##786 followed by an additional # symbol
  2. Follow any on-screen prompts to Reset your phone
  3. Enter the 6-digit code
  4. Select Reset
  5. Confirm any on-screen Reset to default messages
  6. After the reset, press ## followed by the 6-digit code, followed by an additional # symbol (Example: ##123456#) Note: The last # entered will not show on the display

It's easy enough when you do it like that; my problem was that I followed the guide on the website. Which didn't quite work right.

Anyhow, hopefully I've saved somebody somewhere some trouble -- maybe it'll be my new #2 most popular post.

So far I've stuck with MikG, for a couple reasons. One is that Sprint's data plan is ridiculously overpriced and I'm tempted to jump ship to Virgin Mobile or some other Sprint reseller -- and it'd be nice to still have a Sense ROM on there so I can activate.

But another is that I'm really kinda digging the design of Sense. It's fast, it's straightforward, most of the built-in widgets are actually useful and the ones that aren't are easy to remove, and if you had asked me if someone would be able to convincingly pull off a smooth, intuitive seven-workspace layout on a damn phone screen I would have told you you were out of your mind -- but damned if they didn't do exactly that.

I'm a tinkerer by nature, so I may not stick with it. Maybe I'll switch back to Cyanogenmod. Maybe I'll fuck around and install Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean -- I'm not really that concerned about watching Netflix on my phone or using the front-facing camera, and Sprint doesn't even have 4G in my state.

Food for thought, anyhow.

PC Gamer's Dilemma

Well, I finally got me an Xbox 360.

It was free. My fiancée got a new computer with one of those student "comes with a free Xbox" deals.

Here's the thing: I've got a pretty solid gaming rig. And another pretty solid media rig. So I haven't felt much need for Xboxin' up to this point.

The advantages and drawbacks of PC gaming are pretty well-documented. A PC can support crazy high-end hardware, but while the games are cheaper the gear is more expensive and fiddly and there's a whole lot that can go wrong.

Me, I'm something like a niche of a niche of a niche of a niche -- I run Linux on a Mac Pro as my primary OS and keep Windows around for gaming.

This is pretty cool when it works. But here's the thing: even a good Apple makes for a pretty crummy gaming system.

Last year I bought a pretty high-end Nvidia card. ATI has better Mac support, but I've had nothing but headaches trying to get ATI cards working with Linux. Nvidia's always run smoother for me -- galling considering their total lack of cooperation with Linux and the open-source community, but true.

But it's not an officially-supported card. It works under OSX (as of 10.7.3) but it's not entirely reliable under Windows -- when it gets taxed too heavily, I get a bluescreen.

It happened a few times when I played through Witcher 2, but, perversely, it's given me more trouble on Mass Effect 2 -- a game I had no trouble playing through with all the settings maxed out on a lower-end (but officially-Apple-supported) ATI card.

I thought it might be a heating problem but it occurs, consistently, even when I crank up all my system fans with third-party software.

The game worked fine up until Omega, and then started BSoDing randomly. I managed to recruit Garrus in-between crashes, but by the time it came around to Mordin's quest I couldn't get past loading the corridor.

I could just try some other missions, but seriously, you want me to put off getting Mordin? Hell no.

I've found, from searching, that this appears to be a fairly common problem with ME2, even among people not running eccentric hardware configurations such as mine. And I've found a few suggested fixes, but none have worked for me.

I've tried running the game under WINE on both OSX and Ubuntu. Under OSX it plods (I suspect my helper card may be to blame; maybe I'll try disabling it to make sure my higher-end card is the only one the system's putting a load on); under Ubuntu it runs fine up until the menu screen but then doesn't respond to mouse clicks or keystrokes (other than system stuff like Alt-Tab or Alt-F4). I haven't turned up any other reports of this same problem, so I can't find a fix -- maybe one of these days I'll try a full clean install and see if it still does it. Nuke my WINE settings too if I have to. (Or maybe I could set it up on my fiancée's new computer...)

Needless to say, I haven't tried Mass Effect 3 yet.

And that's before we get into all the DRM bullshit plaguing the PC platform.

Never played Batman: Arkham Asylum, largely because of the SecuROM/GFWL/Steamworks Katamari of Sucktitude. Similarly, I gave Dragon Age 2 a miss once I heard reports of people unable to authenticate their legally-purchased games because they'd been banned from BioWare's forums for saying mean things about EA. (Which obviously totally disproves that EA deserves to be called names.)

It's a great damn time to be a PC gamer for a lot of reasons -- a huge indie scene supported by the likes of Steam and the Humble Indie Bundle, with both pushing more gaming on OSX and even Linux -- but it's a lousy time for other reasons.

Anyway. Now I've got an Xbox. All else being equal, I still prefer to play games on the PC, but for cases where the Xbox has less restrictive DRM (like Arkham Asylum) or titles that aren't available on PC (like Red Dead Redemption) or just shit I can get for under five bucks (like a used copy of Gears of War I just picked up), well, it's kinda cool to have one.

Playing: Batman: Arkham Asylum.


Had a spot of trouble with a hard drive at work today and decided to see what thumb drive Linux is like these days. I found a program called YUMI (Your Universal Multiboot Installer) at pendrivelinux.com and discovered that it's pretty great.

YUMI is a simple Windows executable. It's got a long list of Linuxes -- Ubuntus, Fedoras, server OS's like CentOS, small OS's like Damn Small Linux and Puppy, and non-Linuxes like FreeDOS, as well as special-purpose diagnostic software like Ultimate Boot CD and various AV vendors' recovery discs.

Click on one of the supported OS's, point YUMI at an ISO, and it'll install it on your thumb drive -- as many as will fit, with GRUB to select which one you want at boot time. Better still, if you don't have an ISO, it's got a one-click download for every single one of them.

And while it's got dozens of supported OS's built in, it'll do arbitrary bootable ISO's, too; I tried two and found that one (the latest FreeDOS installer) worked while the other (Hitachi Drive Fitness Test) did not.

As for Puppy, it's definitely seen some progress in the years since I last used it but my gripes remain much the same: instead of programs being labeled by name, they have generic descriptions (hypothetically a good idea for neophyte users who don't know what Seamonkey is, but in practice I think "Web" would probably be a better name than "Browse"), and the package management system is less than entirely intuitive. Still, for coming in around 100MB it's a damned impressive, and a whole lot easier on the eyes than the last time I tried it.

Anyway, YUMI's made it easy enough to set up that you can easily spend a couple hours (or more) screwing around with various USB bootkits. It's an impressive piece of software and one I'll definitely be keeping in my admin toolkit.

(There appears to be a Linux equivalent called Multisystem LiveUSB Tool. I haven't tried it out yet so I can't vouch for it, but if you're looking for, you know, a Linux tool for Linux, that might be something to check out.)