Archive for the ‘Tech-geekery: linux’ Category

Open letter to the Scribus development community

April 26th, 2009 by Reinder

Dear people working on the open source desktop publishing application Scribus,

Thank you for working on this project. Linux needs desktop publishing software badly, and it seems like for some reason, you are the only community who can be bothered to work on it. Maybe DTP carries a stigma because it's primarily associated with print, which is all unhip and old-media these days.

However, there are some areas in which you really have to do better. First off, your application is uncharacteristically crash-prone. Also, the Dutch localization is so poor you might as well not have offered it at all. But these issues pale in comparison to the sheer appallingness of your Story Editor in which users can do basic text editing. Yes, I understand that a desktop publishing program is not a word processor. However, the ability to enter text is necessary in a desktop publishing program, and the functionality is relatively easy to implement. So why is the Story Editor incapable of entering into my document what I just typed into it or inserted through the menu for adding symbols?

For the record, when I use the menu to add a double left quote, double right quote or apostrophe, and then hit the Commit button to have the text inserted into the text box, I do not expect any of the following to happen:

  • Insertion of a straight quote or straight apostrophe at the insertion point
  • Insertion of nothing at all at the insertion point
  • One of the above, plus insertion of a space to the right of the insertion point
  • Insertion of a space two characters to the right of the insertion point
  • Deletion of the character to the right of the insertion point and/or the next character to the right
  • Insertion of the correct quote, but at a point other than the insertion point
  • Preservation of an existing straight quote that was selected to be overwritten

It often takes six or seven attempts to insert all the apostrophes and quotes correctly and the extra proofreading involved slows me down considerably. This is not good enough if you claim to have a professional-level product.

To my best understanding, barring problems with the conversion and handling of various character sets, the problem of inserting text at a cursor and passing it on to a different function, application or file was solved some time in the 1960s. Smart quotes have been known since the mid-eighties. I'm puzzled as to why Scribus appears unable to take advantage of existing knowledge in this basic area of computing functionality.

Reinder Dijkhuis, who would like an open source DTP program that does not actively work against him.

PS: Another exasperating behaviour from Story Editor is how it changes numbers typed into it into letters upon commit or when switching between windows. Please make this stop.

Save the comic by troubleshooting my PC problems!

August 12th, 2008 by Reinder

When I moved the studio PC to my apartment, I wrote:

it won’t kill me to scan from Windows XP for a few days.

That rather presupposed that Windows XP would go on working, which turned out not to be the case. The PC now reboots and enters an endless reboot loop for no apparent reason. I've tried System Recovery, and while that seemed to break the loop, the PC will run for about half an hour, then suddenly reboot and enter an endless loop again.

I can't even begin to figure out how to fix this, and I don't have time to take the PC to the shop for repairs until at least the weekend. A Windows reinstall is not an option as that would also destroy all the hours of work I spent configuring the Ubuntu linux installed on this dual-boot system as well. And in the case of a hardware problem, that would rob me of functionality I can use to troubleshoot the hardware.

So I'm going to focus on getting the linux installation to recognise the scanner. At least that problem is tractable. I can ask around and figure out what to do. And if the system starts rebooting spontaneously from linux as well, I'll know I've got a hardware problem..

Hints and tips on both the scanner issue (the scanner is an EPSON GT-12000 which SHOULD work under Ubuntu as it worked from the LiveCD. It was present and switched on when Ubuntu 8.4 was installed) and the possible cause of the reboot loop are highly welcome and may just save the comic - the odds of new Feral updates appearing are nil until I am able to scan from a reliable system. Comments recommending me to get a Mac will be treated as spam unless accompanied by donations of € 500 or more. Besides, the iBook I've already got also went into a reboot loop earlier this week (it got better).

Update: Glorious SCSI-based A3-scanning under Ubuntu now works. I don't like the look of Ubuntu 8.4 much, but I can deal with it. So all I need to do for now is change my boot parameters so I default to linux again. I'll leave the Windows OS on the PC for a while in case I can fix it somehow.

That heron is just one big tease

August 5th, 2008 by Reinder

One of the most infuriating things about Ubuntu is the way it will tease you with a system that recognises all your devices, like, say, an Epson GT-12000 A3 scanner, running from the LiveCD, beautifully, but when you actually add, say, an Epson GT-12000 A3 scanner to an installed system, it will make you jump through hoops and tear your hair out. I've installed the sane package (much to my surprise - I'd have expected it to come with the initial OS install, especially because a front-end was automatically installed at that time. Also, sane runs from the LiveCD) and the Avasys drivers that Epson recommends, to no avail.

Oh well... I'm sure I'll get there some day, and in the mean time, it won't kill me to scan from Windows XP for a few days.

A warning about Opera in Ubuntu 7.10

November 12th, 2007 by Reinder

If you use (K)Ubuntu linux 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, avoid using the new release of Opera web browser made especially for it. Based on my experiences, the combination poses a risk to your data and hardware.

One of the first things I did after installing Kubuntu on my system was to install Opera 9.24 - the version built for the previous release of Ubuntu, Feisty Fawn, because no Gutsy-specific version had been released yet. It turned out that this was one of the bigger disappointments in my use of Ubuntu, because it was terribly crash-prone. I left it out of my previous reports because it was an inappropriate release. But now that there is a Gutsy build, I'm afraid that it's much, much worse. Running that release of Opera, my entire system would freeze up after about 15 minutes of use, necessitating a hardware reset with the Reset button. At first I blamed the hardware until I realised that every time this happened, Opera had window focus. I avoided it for a while and the system stopped freezing up.

This isn't exacly a scientific way to determine the cause of a problem, and I'm trying very hard not to lay all of the blame at Opera Software's feet. But my experiences over a number of years have been that Opera has had widely varying stability on linux, ranging from very bad (Opera 6 on SuSE 8 was a particularly nightmarish release IIRC) to OK (Opera 9.* on SuSE linux 10.0 was stable enough), and its poor performance on Mac OS X made me abandon it on the iBook in favour of Safari. If not Opera on its own, then the combination of this particular release/build with this particular flavor/configuration of linux causes system freezes of the kind that are bad for my system. So rather than investigate further, I've switched all my web browsing over to Firefox and my email to Thunderbird.

I've never been fond of Mozilla Firefox, but I use it at work, and have found that it's improved quite a bit. Opera may be more innovative and comfortable, but Firefox is now very close, and any Opera feature that I use is available in a number of competing versions. I'll get used to this.

Anyway. I just thought I'd warn you. Your mileage may vary.

Kubuntu Gutsy Gibbon: Second impressions, plus some stuff about Amarok

November 10th, 2007 by Reinder

Since posting my first impressions of Kubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, I've warmed to it quite a bit. It's become my main OS now, though not exactly by choice: I was shooting to multi-boot between it and SuSE 10.0, but once I'd installed Kubuntu, the boot loader could no longer find my other boot setup and all I could do was boot Kubuntu, and that only after some tweaking that I'll spare you the details of because it's not something that will apply to many other people.

However, I'm not too bothered by losing my SuSE because for the most part, Kubuntu is working pretty well for me.

What works: all the things I reported the other day, plus mp3 and mp4 support, tablet sensitivity support, wine (running Photoshop 7, Art Rage and Creature House Expression), DVD and DivX/Xvid, TV card (except sound, for which I will have to open the case to reconnect some things). The smooshiness in the screen resolution went away after a re-prod.

What doesn't work: Azureus crashes (but it's not the only bittorrent client in town). Tablet sensitivity under wine - I'll keep an eye on developments in that regard. Paint Shop Pro 8 and Painter Classic under Wine. There are some more minor issues with Photoshop under wine that I should contact winehq about, but nothing that renders it unusable. Opera is a bit unstable on this system, but that may end when there's a Gutsy-specific release. Aaaaand... that's it, really. I'll add to this list if I can think of more stuff that's broken.

Jelena had already got her own copy of regular, gnome-based Ubuntu on LiveCD, and run it on her PC there. I couldn't get it to boot on the studio PC that's attached to the scanner, but my Kubuntu CD did work, and it got the correct sane driver for my Epson GT-12000 A3 scanner. For me, this is a big plus, because what we mainly use that machine for is scanning. For Jeroen and me, if we have the scanner, internet connection and Photoshop 7, that's all we need. Anything else that works is a bonus - except maybe the printer. I forgot to test that, but will do so some other time. Having Ubuntu around could end up saving us many hundreds, possibly thousands, of Euros in the not too distant future. Having said that, we're not installing it just yet. I would like to sort out the tablet issue affecting wine at home before doing that.

Back at home, something that had been puzzling me was a problem with the music player, Amarok. I'd copied some .m4a files from my iBook, including some that I had ripped myself from CD and some from iTunes Plus. They played well and Amarok could read the tags, except sometimes they didn't and Amarok didn't read the tags. I had spent some time searching for m4a problems in linux, and performed several tests with other players in order to isolate the problem, until I saw that one of the files in my playlist queue was only 83 bytes on disk. That gave me the clue I needed quite quickly: iTunes, in its infinite wisdom, still conforms to the old Mac convention of saving every file as two files: one large one containing all the stuff you need, and one very small one containing some metadata for the OS. If I remember correctly, this was introduced back in the day to facilitate file association with the programs to run the files, a feature that's commonplace now but was pretty novel back in the DOS era. These days, it's implemented very differently on most OSes.
Anyway, those extra files start with the "." (dot) character, which causes linux file managers to hide them from the user, but which doesn't cause Amarok to skip them when looking for music files to play. So whenever Amarok encounters a file called .artist_title.m4a, it tries to add it to the collection, and it will show up in your random playlist. Solution: Make sure you can see those files in Konqueror or Dolphin, and delete them as they don't do anything useful in linux.

The fact that Amarok can play m4a files does contribute to it being a better player overall than iTunes Player, because it can play just about any audio most people will care to throw at it, whereas iTunes doesn't play nice with Ogg Vorbis, the format that most of my music is in. Sure, there's a plugin to support it*) but it slows iTunes down noticeably, and metadata display for Ogg Vorbis is still broken. Plus Amarok's interface, while not as sleek as iTunes player, flows really well, can be customized more, and doesn't depend on slightly-less-evil-than-Real Quicktime to run.

*) Of course, the plugin aspect makes for a rather unfair comparison, because technically, every codec in Amarok works as a plugin - but most of them come with the system and even the ones you have to install - which is straightforward - will then work for all of your installed linux system. From a user point of view, it all works a lot more smoothly.

This should help me bring the productivity back up

October 29th, 2007 by Reinder

I haven't had much time to go to the studio, but with this:

Photoshop 7 running under Wine in (K)Ubuntu 7.10. Click to enlarge

...I should be able to do more of my work at home.

So far, I've only had one problem to solve: Photoshop needs the Microsoft core fonts, otherwise the Text tool doesn't work, even if you don't want to use any of those fonts with the Text tool (also, it doesn't know how to display its menus, but that's not all that serious). Once I'd figured out that that was the problem, it was trivially easy to solve (which I did with these two-year-old instructions). I've stress-tested PS with the Liquefy filter on a large image, and while it didn't like to have to do that, it completed the filter eventually, without crashing.
Also, Save For Web is a little bit quirky when you try to save as PNG (the entry field for entering the number of colours doesn't work too well) and scanning directly into Photoshop doesn't work, though there may be a way to make it. It's a luxury anyway, as I can scan through other applications.
And that's about it. PS 7 has Platinum status at Wine HQ which means that it's supposed to work almost exactly as well as it does under Windows, and as far as I can tell, this is justified. PS 7 is positively ancient, but in this case, that's an advantage. It's got all I need, anyway.

Of course, with my newly reinstalled linux system (and I'm really liking Ubuntu a little better every day), I'm also keeping an eye on GIMP. Version 2.4 has been released and looks very capable. Its interface is still scary but I'm used to it. I do wonder what happened to the internationalisation in it, as I can't find the Dutch-language UI files for it anywhere. It's about the only part of Ubuntu 7.10 that hasn't been properly internationalised. GIMP Internationalisation used to work on my SuSE system. Also, I found a Save for Web plugin for it but it refuses to compile and build.

My plan is to finish my current projects in PS one way or another, but try a new, small project in GIMP at some point, to get back into practice and see how well it's been developed over the past few years.

Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) first impressions

October 19th, 2007 by Reinder

I'm typing this in a freshly downloaded version of Opera running on the LiveCD version of Kubuntu, the KDE version of Ubuntu, release no. 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon, on my home machine.

That's the good news, in many ways. I've always liked having LiveCD distros around because they're very useful for testing stuff, staying abreast of the state of linux technology without having to risk buggering up your computer, and as rescue systems with which to access your computer after you've buggered it up. But in my experience, the actual performance of LiveCD distros has often left a lot to be desired. Some of them haven't worked at all; some others worked on one machine but not another. None of them could ever connect to the Internet on my home machine. Not one. Until this one. That's a big step ahead, because it makes the things I want to do with it (testing software and troubleshooting my main installation when it isn't working) that much easier.

Scanning and sound all work, which is great, and the OS is even dimly aware of my TV card, though I didn't get around to configuring it and finally getting some TV signal out of it. It correctly guessed the size of my display, though it did smoosh the desktop picture horizontally a bit, another thing I didn't get round to fixing, because software-based display configuration didn't work and I can never remember what happens after I adjust the screen itself - whether it automatically resets itself whenever I boot into a new system or if it keeps the new settings between OSes - so I didn't.

A lot of other things, however, haven't got that much easier, and some of the supposedly easy things don't work. For example, Amarok currently plays any music file I ask it to, as long as it's an Ogg Vorbis file. No worries, most of my music is in Ogg anyway, and besides, the first time it encountered an mp3 file, it prompted me to download the MP3 support libraries. Lovely, except that after downloading and installing said libraries and prompting me to restart the application, it still doesn't play MP3 files, and prompts me again to install the MP3 support.

The idea is nice though, and I'd have liked a similar feature (except functional, ha ha) for the movie player, which plays even fewer codec formats out of the box than SuSE does. Open source zealotry has its advantages, but it's disastrous for linux as a multimedia platform. This is one thing Knoppix definitely does better.

Likewise, the new software package management front-end, Adept, makes software installation as easy as falling off a log, and every bit as pointless. On my first try, it reported completing the installation of all the newnew softwarem then proceeded not to show the new apps anywhere at all. Strangely, when I had another go, it did install Firefox but still didn't show me the apps I'd installed in my first attempt. Something strange is going on here. Luckily the Debian installer clearly works, so Opera got running on the first try and a whole list of possible causes could be ruled out.

Adept, by the way, is fairly slow. I'm guessing this is because what it does is download the source code and its dependent libraries, then compiles it behind the user's back, thus rendering moot the distinction between source and binary installation. But I can't be sure, because it doesn't give a whole lot of feedback on what it's doing.

The same problem of non-install installs may or may not apply to the desktop eye-candy that was promised- it may simply be that my hardware doesn't support it, or it may be that the nVidia driver only claims to have been installed without actually running in any meaningful sense, or ... well, whatever it is, it'll take some time to find out. It doesn't take a lot of trouble to tell me the reason, anyway.

And that brings me to the biggest problem. I recall that previous versions of Ubuntu had an obvious way to save any changes I made to it between sessions. Or was I thinking of Knoppix? Anyway, that way, I could at least build on what I already knew, in the knowledge that whenever I called it quits and switched off, the work wouldn't be lost. So what if installing software and configuring system functions was a bit more complicated than promised? I wouldn't have to do it often, and I'd learn stuff on the way. But I'm not going to dig into the bowels of my OS if my changes are going to be wiped out anyway.

When it comes to actually using the OS, getting online, playing music, accessing the drives, etcetera, Kubuntu 7.10 does seem to be running smoothly enough. and what is actually on the CD is easy to use. The System control panel should be instantly familiar to OS X users, and there's potentially nifty stuff in there like preconfigured zeroconf networking (useless to me right now but I'm thinking of building a home network). Kubuntu is also backed up by speedy bug reporting from the community, and has a nifty, immediate approach to allowing users to contribute to internationalisation, which I want to investigate further. At the very least I'll try it out again to familiarise myself with its workings, and maybe I'll look into installing it on a separate partition once I'm sure it doesn't brutally overwrite my current bootloader. In short, not quite there, for my purposes, but closer than the last version I tried.

Quick links for Wednesday

February 21st, 2007 by Reinder

Children's literature is full of scrotums! (Via Neil Gaiman)

Matt Taibbi: Maybe We Deserve to Be Ripped Off By Bush's Billionaires:

While America obsessed about Brittany's shaved head, Bush offered a budget that offers $32.7 billion in tax cuts to the Wal-Mart family alone, while cutting $28 billion from Medicaid.

MediaFork is a new media-ripper derived from HandBrake, whose development had stalled recently. Works on OSX and linux (linux version Command Line only). I couldn't get the source code to build, but the binary version worked swimmingly. So far, I've done all my DVD ripping with MPlayer, but you can never have enough tools... and this one seems to be a little smarter than MPlayer at finding the correct audio channels automagically.

Teen 'sport killings' of homeless on the rise. Reminded me of this Majikthise post from a month or so ago. Remind me to be nice to a homeless person some time.

The man responsible for putting my old band's music on Sellaband and adding old photos showing me in the band also regularly sends me interesting music links, so I can almost forgive him. Today, he sent me a link to Dalek I, an obscure early synth duo. I didn't care much for this sort of thing when I was actually living through the synth pop era, but a lot of it sounds rather good to me now.

Update to the previous

April 13th, 2006 by Reinder

After reading up on the mouse problem early this afternoon, I concluded that a clean reinstall was my best bet, so after backing up my remaining files (tip: K3b is useless if you don't have a mouse, but the CD burning software within the Gnome file manager Nautilus is accessible), I did that. Unfortunately, I mistook having planned to back up my email and profiles for actually having backed them up, so I lost a lot of email and passwords. Not that I expect to miss it much, but if I don't respond to that urgent message you sent me yesterday, this is why.
The clean install did solve a lot. I now have two working mice, Internet and a scanner. Kopete, the messaging client, works properly for the first time in a year. Oh, and I can finally watch Xvid videos in Kaffeine, something that eluded me for years. Not that that worked out of the box, mind you, but I could compile everything I needed from source because I had a clean system with lots of development software already installed, and good, detailed instructions.
The only thing I haven't got to work yet is the TV card. So it's likely that I'll be watching Doctor Who on torrented Xvid files again.

Again with the tech blegging

May 8th, 2005 by Reinder

Getting closer to a solution for playing media files on the home computer, but not quite there. Ignore this if tech talk bores you.