Archive for June, 2010

Summer and Opolyish

June 30, 2010

So it’s summer.  At last.  We’ve been waiting for it all year and it’s finally here.  I’ve celebrated by playing computer games, going on social outings, and writing a simple in-terminal game called Opolyish.  Feel free to to try it out.  Hopefully you can have some fun with it.  It’ll probably be better once I put up a more complete set of configuration files so you don’t need to make your own.  A friend of mine has volunteered to add the ability to play over a network to it, so that should also be good.  I’ll keep you posted.

Opolyish aside, I’ve also studied for the Wifu course I’m taking.  It’s a class made by those who maintain Backtrack Linux, and it’s rather fun stuff.  After that I need to do some more miscellaneous learning and focus on algorithms and preparation for USACO, the USA Computing Olympiads.  Then I’ve got reading to do and summer homework to do.  That’s my summer in a nutshell, except for the various trips which I’ll be taking approximately every other week.

well, thanks for reading tonight’s post.  I’ll probably be posting about once a week but on no particular schedule throughout the summer.

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I Need to Apologize to Ubuntu

June 23, 2010

A few months ago, I tried to update my existing Desktop Ubuntu to version 10.04, and I hated it.  All of my configurations were ruined, and it looked and felt downright awful.  I immediately made a fuss about how I was leaving Ubuntu and moved my desktop to Sabayon.  We have since seen what has become of my Desktop (see my previous post).  In despair, I decided I’d give Ubuntu another whirl, wondering if a fresh install would be better than my abysmal update experience.

And it definitely was!  The new Ubuntu is fantastic on a fresh installation.  From the attractive new branding to the innovative features and relatively bug-free experience, Ubuntu definitely holds its place as the most user-friendly Linux distribution.  I think the entire installation and configuration took less than an hour, but I was away from the computer a lot that day and could only check on it periodically, so I’m not sure about the aggregate installation time.  There were also a handful of features which I noticed for the first time after this install (some new, some that i just realized existed):

  • Music Store: The bundled Rythmbox music player finally has a real music store (not just Jamendo and Magnatune) that sells songs in MP3 format.  This is fantastic because I’m sick of buying music in proprietary formats and losing my music in a crash.  Chances of losing your files are reduced even more by the compatibility which the music store has with another feature, Ubuntu One
  • Ubuntu One: Ubuntu has a feature, called Ubuntu One, which gives users 2GB of free online storage (50gb for $10 a month) that can be used to sync files between computers, backup data, share files with other Ubuntu One users, and even automatically keep copies of your music from the music store.  Although I haven’t used this much, I can see how it could be extremely useful for people who buy lots of online music, have multiple ubuntu computers, or need to back up/synchronize things like email contacts.
  • “Me” Menu: This release has introduced Ubuntu’s new ‘me’ menu.  The me menu is a menu in the taskbar at the top right of the screen that allows for easy access to things like, chat, email, and social networking.  It gives quick access to the empathy chat, evolution email, and gwibber social networking clients.  This is a great idea and works well enough, but I’d like to see some improvement in it for future releases.  It’s not that it doesn’t work, but the software that is incorporated into the menu is not ideal in my opinion.  I’m not a big fan of evolution email or gwibber, so I would prefer different applications to be integrated into the menu.
  • Ubuntu Software Center: The Ubuntu Software center has become much, much nicer than it was in the past.  It’s really convenient and good-looking now.

So this is yet another victory for Ubuntu Linux.  Now is a great time for everyday users to switch to Ubuntu from Windows or Apple OSX because there is finally a linux distro which not only matches the other operating systems in most areas but also surpasses them in innovation of useful features.  I should never have doubted a solid distribution like Ubuntu.  It may not be as easily configurable or minimalistic as my favorite distro, Arch Linux, but it is the hands down best choice for new Linux users or people who need stable systems.

Sabayon Linux: Great Until You Update Something

June 12, 2010

Before I begin, let me say that I hold no ill will for Sabayon Linux.  In fact, it is near the top of the list of my favorite Linux distributions and the second most user-friendly distro I’ve ever used (the first being Ubuntu).  Sabayon has an excellent feature set, plenty of pre-installed software, and it works out of the box!  It is such a great distro that I have installed it four times despite its failing at the hands of the same problem each time.

I currently use Sabayon on my Desktop machine, but I used to also have it on my laptop.  I use it as my quick and easy computer if there is some task which I don’t really know how to do because Sabayon has most of the software needed to do anything on it by default (as opposed to the minimalistic arch linux on the laptop).  It works great, with a single exception: updating can be a risky procedure.

Most of the time, it’s fine to update.  Sabayon, which is based on Gentoo, even has a great binary package manager, entropy.  However, there are certain times when updating is surprisingly un-user-friendly.  If you update your kernel version, you need to manually get all the drivers for it.  Not being aware of this caused me to experience an unfortunate crash several times.  Most recently, I allowed the package manager to update one of my configuration files (I hadn’t made any changes to the file, so I figured there was no problem).  Bad Idea.  The next time I booted up the computer, ther X server would not work.  This means I’m stuck on the command line, which isn’t much of a short term problem, but I’d eventually like my GUIs back.

After spending some time trying to get stuff back to normal, I just decided I should switch distros.  Now I have to pick.  I’m looking at Ubuntu as my first choice right now, but I didn’t like the newest release (which is why I started using Sabayon on that computer in the first place).  Maybe I’ll like it better after having had a break.  My other options are Gentoo and arch, so Ubuntu is the way to go if I want it to be easy.  I’ll keep you posted on what happens with the Desktop.

My Fancy New Watch that Plays Movies

June 3, 2010

My birthday was a couple days ago, and I got a series of very unique gifts.  The usual gift cards aside, I’ve been given three movies, two books, a stuffed animal, and a watch (and money to enroll in a class).  The Movies are Tron, Wargames, and Hackers; all excellent films if you need something to do.  I’ve not yet made a dent in either book (one is still on its way here from amazon), but they both look good.  One of the most important gifts was the foot-tall stuffed tux (the linux penguin).  He is currently sitting here on my desk and keeping me company.  Lots of fun.

My final gift was a watch.  Now this was no ordinary watch.  This watch plays movies and songs, displays images and text files, records audio, has a few little games, and acts as an 8GB USB drive.  It’s a super-amazing watch.  I am yet to actually wear it (The band needs to be adjusted), but I can’t wait.  It’s currently charging.  The downside of having all those features in a watch is that it has something between 1-3 hours of battery life.  It makes up for this by turning off the display and only giving the time when a certain button is pressed (it’ll be a weird site for people who walk by and see my faceless watch).  A particularly amusing feature is that the watch comes from an obscure chinese company and is called an mp4 player on the box.

You may not be familiar with cheap portable chinese multimedia gadgets, but they have the most cryptic manuals in history.  The translation was so bad that one of the issues on the troubleshooting page was ‘promiscuous words.’  Also, very few sentences had completely correct grammar.  To make matters worse, the pictures provided had chinese text in the dialogue boxes.  You may think that this made the process of setting up the watch a pain, but it really made it so much more fun.  The interface was really easy to figure out.

One detail which I feel others should be aware of is that many of these devices of chinese origin only support the .mtv file format (designed to avoid having to pay royalties for the other formats), so you need to get a converter to change your files to mtv files.  Although they do give you a cd with a converter on it, it is for windows only.  You can get converters to work on linux through WINE (the linux windows compatibility layer), but it’s a pain.  So much of a pain in fact, that I think I’ll just have to use someone else’s windows computer to convert my videos (for now).

In any case, I’ve had excellent fun these past few days, and I hope it continues despite the imminent final exams.

My Amazing see-through Tape Wallet

June 1, 2010

Today I’m going to talk about something a little less technical than usual.  However, this experiment does have the ‘hack value’ which I usually pursue.  After working with my robotics team for the better part of the day, as we were about to get ready to go home, the other captain stayed behind to help me clean up.  After talking about matters of club business for some time, our conversation wandered.  At some point, he showed me his wallet for some reason, and I noted that it was made of duct tape.  I then mentioned that I needed a new wallet and asked how to make one out of duct tape.  As we were getting the stuff needed to make the wallet, I noticed a roll of packing tape sitting on the table from earlier.  This gave me an idea.  I could make a clear wallet from this tape.  Not caring that this would mean anybody could tell how much I’ve got, I decided to go ahead with my new plan.

Tutorials on how to make wallets from duct tape are all over the web, so I won’t talk about how exactly I did it here.  However, I’ll tell you about some fun stuff I did with y wallet after making the basic money-holding compartment.  Obviously I made ample pockets for cards and whatnot.  Then I got creative.  As I mentioned when Talking about my indispensable USB toolkit, I always keep some stuff handy on a USB.  Also, I used to keep my house key in a separate pocket in my old wallet.  I decided that I’d add more mini-pockets for a USB and a key.

Now my wallet has holders for a USB and keys.  A testament to the epic power of creative ideas. 🙂

Irrelevantly, Wargames is a great movie!  I’m watching it right now for the first time in a couple years and its distracting me from this post.  Anyway, I’m off to sleep after a few more moments.  Happy Memorial Day!