Monday, December 17, 2012

Amusingly Unacceptable Android App

I decided to play around with an office app on the Android, and Kingsoft looked good with over 45k reviews and an average review of 4.6 The terms of use had one agreement with Google Analytics. The other is shown below:

I don't think I really need this app after all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Improve Your Hosts File for Christmas

Opera has a nice feature that one can selectively block advertising. When I do my daily once-over of web sites I visit, I do it in Opera, and then delete all private data. However, for whatever reason, ads from regularly escape Opera's block content feature. However, this site violates my if it moves or makes noise, kill it policy. Adding this to the hosts file does the trick:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Serious Deficiency with Caja 1.4

Caja 1.4 is missing the media properties tab. I've installed Thunar and thunar-media-tags-plugin and this provides the functionality, but with a clunky interface. With Thunar, I can right-click a file and choose the audio tab, but thre is nothing useful there other than the properties button. Clicking properties provides one with actual audio properties. 

I saw a suggestion that installing nautilus might be an alternative, but it looks like that causes zeitgeist to also be installed, which is not something that belongs on a supposedly lean, supposedly somewhat secure desktop.

Nice Little Improvement in LibreOffice

Now when adding a word to the dictionary, LibreOffice just adds the word, without forcing the user to choose dictionaries. Going back to Star Office, there were usually two dictionaries by default and the choice of which to add a word to seemed arbitrary. Then for the past few years, the default configuration had just one dictionary, but still forced the user to choose the only choice. Now, with just one choice, LibreOffice assumes the only choice is the one the user wants. Yes. Keep the common case fast.

It's still not a very good dictionary application, being hopelessly bad at offering possible corrections. Ispell is very good. No other dictionary comes close.

My Preferred Firefox Extensions

  • CS Lite Mod (1.4.8): cookie management
  • Download Statusbar (0.9.10)
  • HTTPS-Everywhere (3.0.4)
  • NoScript (2.6.3)
  • Padlock (0.5.0)
  • Web Developer (1.2.2): reliable referer blocking
Useless crap Ubuntu adds to Firefox that is easily disabled, but not so easily uninstalled: 
  • Global Menu Bar Extension
  • Ubuntu Firefox Modifications

Friday, December 7, 2012

Mate 1.4 on Lubuntu 12.10

Simply follow the instructions at, except replace "precise" with "quantal."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Clementine and Guayadeque, Close, but not Quite

I continue to have issues with Rhythmbox 2.96 on Ubuntu and Mint (Mate in both cases) and I will give up on it if I find something better, or maybe they'll finally get around to addressing some of these bugs. It doesn't see new songs added to the library reliably, if I force it to rescan the library it crashes, and it often stops between songs for no explicable reason. A lot of these problems have been around for awhile, which makes me wonder if development or support for Rhythmbox is weak. The last straw was that it seemed to be missing three songs from the Roxy Music "Street Life" album, both on my desktop at home and at work, and the files were there and fine--at least so far as Totem was concerned.

I just tried out Clementine, and with lots of features disabled it looks clean and seems to work well. However, I don't see how to display songs in order of least recently played to most recently played. However, Clementine did show the songs that Rhythmbox was "missing," and I now suspect the issue was that Rhythmbox was categorizing them as Bryan Ferry songs, not Roxy Music. Clementine was smart enough to include them in the Roxy Music search.

Double-checking with Rhythmbox, they are indeed under Bryan Ferry and not missing. So this is not a new Rhythmbox bug.

Guayadeque is promising, but it forces a listening model on the user. Also, I can't get it to use the screen efficiently. If one doesn't keep a bunch of useless crap on-screen, instead there's a big blank area. If there is discussion of layout, saving layouts, restoring layouts, etc., why isn't the layout configurable? I might have another look in the future.

Please don't mention Banshee. It's got too many features I don't need, takes forever to load, takes forever to search a large library, and so far as I can tell does nothing well.

Upshot: I'll keep using Rhythmbox since I don't have time to mess with Guayadeque right now. I'll uninstall Clementine. I'll keep Guayadeque to mess with in the future.

2.96 might be an oldish version of Rhythmbox, but it's what's in the Mint 13 repositories, and there's no sense in wasting much time tweaking a media player--it works or it doesn't  In the next OS upgrade (later this month for me), it'll either work or it won't.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Kudos, 2 of 2

This is also a file transfer story. We use a Windows share at work, and whenever it's upgraded or I upgrade my Linux box, it takes me a while before I regain access to the share. The problem is two-fold:  I don't speak Windows terminology, making the instructions I have from our sysadmin and from various web sites I've visited seem like gibberish to me, and I don't need the stuff on the Windows share  often enough for it to really matter. Nobody would put anything really important on a Windows share anyhow, right?

Tonight I decided I'd figure it out once and for all (yeah, that'll be the day), or at least until the next upgrade obliterates any semblance of backward compatibility. After the usual browsing through useless web sites ("hit Alt-F2 and type smb:// yadda yadda, to which Linux Mint replies, "Huh?"), I stumbled across, David Wood's SMB HowTo v1.3, 20 April 2000. The key is to know the command  /usr/bin/smbclient. The age of the HowTo is great  since this suggests that this is not something I'm going to have to toss out with the next upgrade.

Also, smbclient provides a nice, simple interface similar to ftp. Handling spaces and similar crap in file names is a bit clumsy, but it's clumsy within scripts as well.

Anyhow, David Wood, wherever you are today, thanks!

Kudos, 1 of 2

A couple days ago I couldn't transfer files between my desktop and Android because something dysfunctional called Samsung Kies was running on the Android, making it possible to see top level directories from my Mate box, but nothing below--it showed each directory as empty. It didn't really take so long to find the setting under Wireless and Network to disable Kies (USB is a networking technology, after all) but my first reaction was to fire up AndFTP on the Android, and it transfered the files quickly, painlessly, and wirelessly.

AndFTP is a great little sftp client for Android--I recommend it very highly.

Kies is software of no discernible value that Samsung stuck on the Galaxy 5, apparently so they can say they mucked with some of the software, or added "value."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Alan Greenspan Gets It

Alan Greenspan, quoted in We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: thew Iraq war was largely about oil."

This was in 2004.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Update to Linux Mint 14 Backports--A Mistake?

Not much of a mistake, because my plans were already that as soon as I get some free time I'll blow Mint away, replacing it with Lubuntu/Mate.

 I downloaded an MP3 tonight. Not an unusual event. I right-clicked the MP3 with the intention of looking at the audio properties, which were nowhere to be seen. So, it turned out my system was all-of-a-sudden using Thunar. WTF? I know I had XFCE installed, but why was was Thunar suddenly the default?

I uninstalled Thunar, and tried again. Again, no audio properties. What's this? Nemo? WTF? So I uninstalled Nemo. The next time I clicked on Places, I got Caja, which should be okay. But still no audio properties!

WTF Mate project? This is Caja 1.4.0, presumably newer and better than what I had been running, but clearly not better. The same sorts of mistakes, over and over and over. When did update become the opposite of upgrade? After NT4? After SunOS 4? When did the Linux crowd decided to match Windows feature-for-feature and became as Windows-like as possible?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Amazon, This Will Take Some Getting Used To

Amazon has a new "feature" which I find to be quite annoying. I decided it's time to read Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, and so visited Amazon. It's not available for Kindle, and is fairly expensive as a physical book, so a summary of the book caught my attention, and I thought it was pretty inexpensive:

As I went to click the purchase button, I noticed the "good" price was for a rental, so suddenly it was not a good price. Why make the rental price so much more prominent than the purchase price? It's especially more prominent in the search. Smells like bait-and-switch to me.

This is Weird

This is Google's summary that pops up when one searches for William Seward:
When I saw the location of birth, I thought it interesting, but plausible, that Florida was as specific as they could get. Then with the place of death, Auburn, I thought I had spotted something that needed fixing in Wikipedia. I assumed Auburn, AL, but I also know there are other Auburns, and so intended to look it up. But then I visited the actual Wikipedia page, which provides this information:

Florida, NY and Auburn, NY. So Google decided (likely with no human intervention) that if they said "Florida," people would automatically think of a place in NY, and if they said "Auburn," people would immediately realize it was the Auburn in New York. Oops.

Now I need to see if anyone famous was born in Athens or Calcutta (Ohio, of course) or Lisbon (Maryland) and see where Google says they were born.

Friday, November 23, 2012

100% Mono-Free

[ I didn't write the below with the intention of coming across as bragging, but if your Linux has Mono and mine doesn't, mine's better. So there.]

I had mono as a college student, and can't say it was a great experience. Lately my Mint and Ubuntu systems have also gotten mono, which is apparently required for Banshee, and is also not a great experience. I'm not sure if it's Banshee that's sickly-slow or mono, but either way, the first thing I do with a new install is make sure neither is present.

Maybe some day Banshee will work well. But that day is not upon us, and so since I prefer to hear a song in the same week in which I click play, it's other players for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Daily Ignorable Warning Message

Most days the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells me I have 15 free articles remaining this month. then I delete cookies and the count starts back at zero.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why Ubuntu, Unity, Gnome 3, etc., Are Losing Popularity

Several times I've bemoaned the fact that Linux is getting more-and-more like Windows on a year-by-year basis. Of course, now, with Unity and its ilk, we're expected to use an interface that looks like a smart phone on a full-size monitor with an actual keyboard and mouse. Perplexing.

So it looks like I might try Cinnamon again since it appears that one can disable edge-tiling, which I  and apparently several other people find very annoying. The fact of the matter is that with a large monitor, wanting to maximize a window is a much less common operation than is moving a window, and edge-tiling badly violates the keep the common case fast principle. I often move windows to the top of the screen. With edge-tiling, this takes longer, since it is often followed immediately by an unmaximize operation.

Googling about this annoyance, I came across a discussion at which is a great example of inability to read coupled with arrogance. One of the posters complained that adding these sorts of features, making them default behavior, and not making it clear how to disable them wastes peoples time. Gerryl: This is dangerously close to operating with MS Windows. How are us mere mortals supposed to find out and address these kinds of issues?

The next posting agrees. I agreed (though without bothering to log in and say so). Then markbl responded

This is unfathomable. markbl knows better than gerryl what gerryl (and presumably me) will think it's a good idea once we get used to it? Maybe riding around in donkey carts would also start to seem like a good idea once one gets used to it. Maybe sitting in this pot of water that keeps getting warmer will someday seem like a good idea (wait, aren't we doing this is a society by continuing to pump carbon into the atmosphere?).

Furthermore, maybe it's been buried somewhere as an option, but once it suddenly becomes default behavior, or someone first encounters it when evaluating environments (as I did in Cinnamon), it's a new and potentially negative experience.

People acclimate to bad things, e.g., new user interfaces for Blogger and Gmail, but that doesn't mean we should be happy about it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jesus, Google!

Apparently someone at Google has decided that composing an e-mail is too straightforward, and so they've decided to muck with Gmail yet again. Zoho, anyone?

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Some moron at TracFone put the following on their texting FAQ:

So is this 0.3 minutes? 0.3 cents? 0.3 dollars?

Friday, October 26, 2012

5 is Not Prime

Well, it is prime, but if we relax the requirement that it has no integer factors to allow complex numbers with integer components, i.e., a + bi where a and b are integers, then 5 is not prime.

(2 + i)(2 - i) = 4 -2i + 2i -i^2 = 4 - (-1) = 5

I love the BBC 4 program In Our Time. Listen to the discussion of the history of complex numbers at

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Screenshots in Gnome, Mate, etc.

[ Note added 2013-05-13: I now have a scrot-based shell script that does this better IMHO than does Imagemagick. See ]

The Gnome screenshot tool has always fallen a bit short in the usability department. How do I change the default directory for storing screen shots? How do I make it default to "select area to grab"? I've always just lived with it, but tonight decided to do a little legwork to learn how to make it default to what I wanted, and I found something better.

 I've long used ImageMagick for image editing. In some respects Mirage is easier to use, but Mirage doesn't handle as many image formats. I suppose the GIMP is more popular, but it's a usability nightmare. Google led me to a wonderful page at the Webmaster Tips Blog.

Assuming one has ImageMagick installed, taking a screenshot of a selected area on the screen is as simple as typing

    import filename.imagetype

and then selecting the area of the screen to copy.

As a concrete example, suppose I want to capture some text from above in file selectArea.png:

    import selectArea.png

The result is this, in a file called selectArea.png:

I like it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thumb Drive Undelete Files

A few weeks ago a student wanted to know how to undelete files on a FAT-formatted thumb drive. I knew I used to be able to do that with a Linux system--no guarantees of reliability of course--but a quick search turned nothing up. Actually, it's easy: just install testdisk, . To run, you may have to be superuser. It installs easily and works well (n of 1 study) on Mint 13, but any Debian-derived system is probably fine.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sprint News: Too Little, Too Late

One week after I cancel my contract with Credo Wireless (and pay a $70 early termination fee--totally worth it) comes the news that Sprint may be expanding their cellular network if some other company kicks in some money. Credo is on the Sprint cellular network, and I can't say that anything like this is likely to entice me back. What Credo meant to me was a long-term commitment to a bad phone and poor signal strength. Sprint was the poor signal strength part of this. Credo/Sprint didn't provide a usable signal in my office, a good signal at my home, or any signal to speak of at my parents' house. Good riddance.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Making Emacs Act More Like a Text Editor

Emacs used to be a great programmer's editor. It still is, but non-text features keep creeping in making it less usable for editing and viewing text. For example, doc-view mode makes emacs render a PDF, DVI, or PS file. But PDF and PS are text formats, so I can't imagine why I'd want emacs to render them--other tools do that well.
To make emacs better-behaved, it seems the following in one's .emacs file is sufficient:

(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.pdf\\'" . fundamental-mode))
(add-to-list 'auto-mode-alist '("\\.ps\\'" . fundamental-mode))
Thanks to Stefan Monnier at!topic/
My .emacs file (really, my emacs-custom.el which is loaded from my .emacs) has been growing since Fall 1988, and I don't see that changing, especially as new puppies start monkeying with emacs' behavior. Of course, I do trim detritus from time-to-time.
Actually there might be some stuff in there from my time at William and Mary, 1984-1986. Zippy says "yow."

Nick Anderson on Fee Speech

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time to Give Up On the NFL

Several years ago, Fall of 2004, I decided that attending an NFL game in person is no longer enjoyable. It seemed to be more TV timeout than actual action. Gradually I've decided that watching an NFL game on TV isn't worth it due to the amount of time they cut away for commercials. Now that the NFL is blatantly taking fans for granted by putting out an inferior product, I think it should be clear to all that this is primarily a large corporation focused on short-term profits over quality products. No more. They can do the right thing and pay the officials, or not. Either way, I'm gone.

My last game in person was in Pittsburgh, watching the Steelers beat the Redskins at the end of November. It's a great venue for a game: we had brunch, took a ferry across to the game, and had pretty good seats. I enjoyed the company, but not the fact that the NFL was treating me like part of a captive audience. No more.

That was Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season, and despite the win, he had a forgettable game. Now it's time to forget the NFL.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mate 1.4 on Lubuntu 12.04

I strongly prefer Ubuntu to Mint since Mint doesn't provide an install-time option for an encrypted LVM, i.e., full-disk encryption. This just seems to be a basic requirement, especially for a laptop. However, Ubuntu has gone along with the Gnome 3 atrocity, and compounded the matter with Ubuntu Shell. So, how to get a usable UI with Ubuntu? I've been playing around with LXDE on Lubuntu, and it has considerable appeal. However, when all is said and done, it is too bare-bones. What I really want is Mate, except not bloated.

What I have done this afternoon is a fresh Lubuntu 12.04 install, and then I installed Mate 1.4 on that. This is a newer version of Mate than I have on my Mint 13 systems; that is possibly a good thing--I'm hoping for fewer bugs.

How did I install Mate on Lubuntu? It's pretty simple--the first page Google pointed me to was the right one, at Ubuntu Geek. It was not quite right, but the solution was in the comments following the article. My summary, combining the above-mentioned article with one of the corrections in comments:

sudo add-apt-repository "deb precise main"
sudo apt-get install mate-archive-keyring
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-archive-keyring
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mate-core
sudo apt-get install mate-desktop-environment

The weird thing above is the repeated install of mate-archive-keyring and update. What I was seeing was that, as expected, apt was unable to verify the packages in the Mate archive without its public key. So the first time I installed mate-archive-keyring, there was a warning message indicating a missing key. Then I did the update, and received a similar warning message. The next time I installed mate-archive-keyring and update, each worked. Everything else was smooth and easy.

So, how badly bloated is the result? I'm not yet sure, but I will be going over it in the near future making a list of what to remove.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Opera Address Bar Tip

There is a user interface design flaw in Opera 12.02 where, by default, the full URL of a web site is not shown. Here's an example:

Now suppose I want to select and paste this address, and click at the right edge of the displayed "URL." This is the result:

As can be easily seen in the image, if as user is not careful, a critical portion of the URL is lost. Even an attentive user still must repeat the select operation. Either way, time and effort are wasted.

Fortunately, though this is a bad UI decision, there is an option to force Opera to correctly display the URL correctly. Navigate to Opera|Settings|Advanced|Browsing. The penultimate checkbox under this tab is Show full web address in address field. Check this and the address bar will function correctly:

Similarly, Firefox no longer displays URLs correctly. The fix is here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

More Blackboard Dumbness

Blackboard is a badly-bloated course management tool that is mostly convenient for students, and mostly inconvenient for faculty. Periodically I point out problems with the tool. My most recent peeve is that posting an announcement, the instructor always must check a box saying that the announcement is available over the length of the course, rather than just temporarily. This is a failure on the part of a Blackboard "designer" to understand the basic principle. keep the common case fast. Par for the course.

A more amusing bug that I've noticed today is that if an instructor posts an HTML document that includes a commented-out link to an image, Blackboard prompts to upload the image. Dumb. Why interrogate the user about HTML source from a tool that is clearly incapable of parsing HTML source?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Early Impressions of LXDE

I'm using LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) on my laptop. First of all, it seems to be a resurrection of the long dead Unix philosophy: simple tools that do specific things well. Second of all, it makes no sense to use Mint on a laptop until Mint makes whole-disk encryption easier. It's a piece of cake in Lubuntu.

LXDE seems to be missing some very basic things, but it also does some very basic things right. In Mint, there are no themes (okay, maybe if I wanted to spend my life looking through themes designed for 12-year-olds) that provide significant contrast between the window with focus and the other windows. LXDE does this in an attractive fashion. It has panels, rather than the brain-damaged crap the Gnome project is trying to foist on people.

Why am I more willing to spend time adding functionality to LXDE than to figure out how to customize, say, Mate? Mate is a very heavy-weight environment. Overall Mate is well thought-out and well-implemented, and it is available for more secure environments than Mint, but it is yet another attempt to make Linux into a Windows clone.

With a new Mate installation, I have to spend hours uninstall useless crap, disabling useless background daemons, etc. LXDE saves this hassle--I have a machine I can halfway trust before pounding on it for a week.

LXDE is a better idea than Mate, and a much, much better idea than Gnome Shell. It's worth spending time on. Or so I think so far.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Chicago's CTA--Thumbs Up

The past few days I have used Chicago's subway and elevated train system extensively, and think it's one of the better systems around. Here are a few things of note:
  1. The elevated tracks, the "L," are very nice for newcomers since one can spot the tracks from some distance, and once the tracks are identified, finding a station becomes a simple process.
  2. The announcements are recorded, clearly recorded, as opposed to the garbled live announcements used by, for example, the DC Metro.
  3. I saw a status display today that showed all elevators in the system in operation. The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) web site today claimed all lines operating normally. The DC Metro hasn't been in such a state for a long while, unless maybe it was brief and I missed it.
  4. At one station, and really at just one exit to one station, upon exit there are compass points embedded in the sidewalk. I left the Grand Station's NW exit (also labeling exits by compass points is great) wanting to go west, looked down upon exit, and saw that west was straight ahead. This is such a great thing, and so simple, I think all subway systems should adopt it (the red line at Grand is underground, as is much of the system). [ Added 2012-08-25: the Chicago Avenue stop on the Brown line also has compass points of this sort at an exit. ]
I guess part of my pleasure at how nice the CTA is comes from recent DC Metro ridership, but DC comparisons aside, the CTA seems to be doing a good job. It's nice to see some part of the country's infrastructure that still works.

Yes, I know that the phrase Chicago's CTA is redundant.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Canon vs. Lumix

I found myself rather suddenly in need of a new camera and it came down to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 and a Canon PowerShot SX150. I've had digital cameras of each make in the past, and so, needing it right away and being busy, I decided to quickly buy a known quantity. The Canon is a solid, inexpensive camera, a bit less expensive than the Lumix, but with similar features.

The Lumix has a Leica lens, which is a significant advantage. I took this with a Leica-equipped Lumix (a DMC-TZ1), and don't think it would have been as good with a Canon. Really. But there were two drawbacks to my old Lumix (three drawbacks, really, but more on that later):
(1) The Lumix was noisy in low light situations. Right or wrong, I think Canon has done a better job with the electronics. The newer Lumix might be better.
(2) The Lumix uses a proprietary battery. Multiple times on my last trip with the Lumix, I used both of my batteries' charges, and was stuck. The batteries were expensive and degraded over time. The current Lumix batteries are apparently 1100mAh 3.6V, or just under 0.4Wh, but after a couple years, who knows?

The batteries were the deciding factor. The Canon uses a pair of AA batteries. Sanyo Eneloop NiMH are cheap, under $2.50 each, have long lives (1500 charge/recharge cycles advertised), and are 2000mAh each. So two Eneloops are 2 * 0.2 * 1.2 = 0.48Wh. Advantage, Canon, plus the Sanyo Eneloops have a low self-discharge rate and are cheap, and I can carry as many with me as I want. In a pinch I can pick up alkalines just about anywhere.

The third drawback to the Lumix? A drawback shared with the Canon, no optical viewfinder. With just an LCD viewfinder, the camera is very difficult to use in full sunlight. With both my old Canon and my old Lumix, I often thought that rather than point-and-shoot, I had to shoot-and-hope, not knowing what was in the picture until later.

Monday, August 13, 2012

No Wonder Best Buy is In Trouble

There is no search box on Best Buy's front page. Unbelievable. How much advertising copy do they expect me to wade through before I get to something interesting? For the first time ever, I am visiting

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dia Epiphany

For years now I've used dia as a diagram-drawing tool, and it's a good example of what open-source software should be: usable and useful. But I've often wished I could add to the set of available objects to use within diagrams. Tonight, rather than just getting the job done, I decided to RTFM. Adding an object is easy.

One of the last gadgets looks vaguely like the moon over a mountain. I never clicked it before, or if I did, I didn't get the point. Besides, who wants to virtually moon mountains? The idea is to click the moon & mountain and place it on the drawing. The result is a red X over the text broken image. Double-click on the  X, and then click on browse. Pick an image. So far I've loaded a couple png images, and it works like a dream--perfect!

I don't remember when I started using dia; perhaps as recently as '06. I used idraw on SunOS systems in the late '80s and early '90s. The alternative was xfig which was overly complicated, and impossible to use without reading a manual (like, e.g., the GIMP). After leaving OSU, through '98, I was often stuck using NT machines (NT 4 was Microsoft's most usable OS, however). I don't remember what I was using--probably I just avoided doing anything that wasn't easy in whatever Microsoft's drawing program was. But around the turn of the century I went full-time Linux on the desktop (had been using it for servers since '95 or so--Slackware, then Red Hat, then Debian) and it was a good move, though I believe I'll soon flush Ubuntu & Mint down the toilet where they belong.

But I digress. Dia: great! Dia: easy to add images! Dia: highly recommended! Dia: apparently available for Windows. Wikipedia has a bare-bones dia overview.

Google Does Evil and then Lies About It

Today Google agreed to pay apple $22.5M for allegedly breaching Safari users' browser settings to set cookies. That's evil.  The payment is apparently a record high, but for Google is just a slap on the wrist

But then the above-linked Business Week article quotes Google to say "...[we have taken] steps to remove the ad cookies, which collected no personal information, from Apple’s browsers.” This strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. No, cookies gather no information. However, web servers accessing cookies left previously do gather information, so placing the cookies aided Google's gathering of information about users' browsing behavior. And a user's browsing behavior strikes me as private.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Really the Biggest Albatross Crippling Ubuntu and Mint

I'm an old Unix guy. Unix worked. When I saw the opportunity to blow away Windows junk with Linux, I jumped at it thinking it would be a simpler, more reliable OS. In the '90s that was a correct assessment. Now, Linux distros are continuously chasing new features and thus becoming bloated with partly-working software. I'd prefer to find an OS where attention is paid to quality.

In the late '80s I taught intro CS on Macs, and they were utter crap. Cooperative multitasking? One-button mice? Give me a break. A former colleague used to say that a computer user's intelligence is directly proportional to the number of buttons on his mouse. I realize, as did he (I think), that the generalization doesn't hold, but copying and pasting in Windows is really clumsy due to the 2-button mouse limitation, and it's hard to imagine a Mac being any better. Of course, Macs still use one-button mice, and my early-learned disdain for Macs survives, though without any actual Mac usage in the past couple decades.

I've been married more recently than I've spent more than 10 minutes using a Mac.

Is Solaris any better? The word on the street suggests not, especially since Sun got bought out. How about BSD? I want the system to be invisible and let me do my work. I guess I want SunOS 4, but not really...

Audio Working (Today); Maybe Popping Mint & Ubuntu from Active Stack and Pushing them to Used Stack

Audio is working today on my Linux Mint 13 64b system, which is a pleasant surprise. It's been stuttering the last few weeks, and after much Googling it appears to be a known problem with PulseAudio, one of Linux's several albatrosses. As soon as I read speculation that it would be fixed in Mint 14, I spent a little while pondering OSS, but I have work to do, and clearly the Ubuntu/Mint flavors of Linux are not cut out for that. Is it time to go back to Debian? My recollection was that, as of a few years ago, Debian mostly worked. Or do I try out Arch Linux?

The biggest albatrosses around Ubuntu/Mint's indistinguishable necks? Unity and Gnome Shell, and the notion that we're more interested in crippling desktop and laptop computers to look like smart phones than in, again, actually getting our work done.

Corporate Culture Wars

Starbucks, J.C. Penney, Oreo, and now Amazon (or Bezos anyway) have stepped forward in favor of gay rights, and apparently seen no negative impact on their sales. Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, came out against gay marriage and is seeing business consequences, to the extent that they now seem to be backing off. What is one to think? That there are many more supporters of gay rights than opponents, or that the supporters are better informed or have more disposable income than the opponents? That the opponents, e.g., Chick-fil-A's COO, are quicker to abandon principles in favor of money? Probably there isn't really much to be gathered from this.

Here is Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy's statement that sounded tremendously ignorant. From CBS News:
I don't think I'll ever understand all the energy expended by some to take away other peoples' dignity. And I don't think anyone is shaking fists at god. OTOH, I think Rahm Emanuel probably went a bit far in his sweeping pronouncement of what Chicagoans do not believe.

I will not be taking part in any Chick-fil-A boycotts; no need: I never go there anyhow. UMBC unfortunately opened one on campus, and it is unbelievably bad. They have nothing that tastes like chicken.

I might, OTOH, patronize a Chick-fil-A Wednesday as Santorum suggests: "Oh Chick-fil-A, you have such good chicken sandwiches." Of course, we would both know that's not true.

Finally, Steven Colbert weighed in on the issue:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chrome as Nagware

Now whenever I start Chrome, it asks me to sign in to the browser. Why? It's a browser, not an OS. Apparently this will let me sync my bookmarks, history, and settings on all my devices: "With Chrome's sign-in feature, you no longer need to fret about your bookmarks or apps being "stuck" on one computer." Who's enough of a dweeb to fret about this stuff?

Different machines have different characteristics, so maybe I want different settings. Maybe I want different bookmarks, history, and apps at home and at work. Maybe I want to try out a setting or an app, but not spread it across all my systems until I decide I like it. Maybe an app is stealing data. Do I want it spread across all my machines quickly and automatically?

I think this is a feature that some people will want. But the way Google is going about it, nagging us to log in every time we start the browser, apparently with no setting to disable the request, feels coercive. And when a corporation attempts coercion, I worry about ulterior motives.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A sign of the times

Firefox's US English spell checker doesn't come pre-loaded with the word 'bookstore.' They still exist, really.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stop the Regressives

A short video from Robert Reich.

Teaching Networking?

Guido Appenzeller and Nick McKeown have a great pair of TCP congestion animations at

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Think Stratford!

Drove past a billboard this morning entering Catonsville from the west on 144, and there was a billboard that this morning stated "The Stratford! Stratford University, Baltimore." Who the heck are they? Visiting their web site, it's clear they are not accredited by a regional accrediting body, so credits from Stratford University won't transfer to a real university, so their students are largely throwing their money away.

Why do people give shysters like this their money? Interestingly, they provide very little info online. That in itself should be a red flag.

Monday, July 9, 2012

If it walks like global warming and it quacks like global warming...

Over the weekend, track on the DC Metro's green line kinked causing a derailment, a plane sank into the melted tarmac at Washington National Airport, and east-bound lanes of US 50 east of DC buckled, closing the highway.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Amazon Cloud Reader: Almost Useless

This morning I wanted to look something up in an e-book that I had previously read and archived on my Kindle. Rather than download it to the Kindle, re-read small portions of it, and then put it back in the archive, I figured I could just use the Amazon Cloud Reader. I opened the book, and tried to search the book. No joy. ^F just does a find on the visible portion of the book, and there are no other search controls.

After a search (powerful idea, no?) of the Kindle help forums and learning there is no search, I sent Amazon customer service a query in case there really was, but no.

So how could a text-based application, like an e-reader, possibly be shipped without a search function? How could Amazon possibly make this omission? Really, how could they consider the Cloud Reader ready to ship without a convenient way of searching a book?

How can an organization that did such a great job on the Kindle do such a poor job on the web-based stand-in?

Mate 1.2 Missing Crucial Scrollbar Functionality in Linux Mint 13

In Mate 1.2 on Linux Mint 13, the arrows at the tops and bottoms of scrollbars are sometimes present, and sometimes not. It seems to vary from application to application, suggesting it could simply be a bug rather than an egregious usability screw-up, but it is probably both. Having had similar problems with recent versions of Gnome, I figured someone had probably figured out how to fix this. Here's the trick (copy and paste as a single line):

sudo aptitude purge liboverlay-scrollbar-0.1-0 liboverlay-scrollbar-0.2-0 liboverlay-scrollbar3-0.2-0 overlay-scrollbar

Clearly overlay-scrollbar is screwed up. Oddly, this was removed from Linux Mint 12, but somehow snuck back into Linux Mint 13.

Thanks to MartinVW and LewRockwellFAN at

As an aside, it appears that this scrollbar crap is intentional. The following is from a posting elsewhere on "Ayatana scrollbars":

Overlay Scrollbar – The overlay scrollbar, or the Ayatana Scrollbar, is a feature designed to solve a non-existent problem. According to the official description, it was designed to “improve the user’s ability to focus on content and applications” and to “ensure that scrollbars take up no active screen real-estate” thereby “reducing the waste of space and distracting clutter that a traditional scrollbar entails.” That is pure nonsense. It just creates more problems than it solves. In fact, it does not solve any problem, because as stated earlier, there is no problem to solve, as far the scrollbar is concerned.

Aside from making you “look” for the scrollbar before you can use it, it creates an inconsistency in the system because some applications, like Firefox, will have the traditional scrollbar, while native Ubuntu applications will have the overlay scrollbar.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Linux Mint 13 PulseAudio Stuttering

[ Note added 2012-07-17: the below was only a temporary fix. 13 days later, PulseAudio is stuttering again, with a vengeance. For now I'm watching this thread. ]

Recently my 64b desktop developed a bad stutter. I originally thought it was a rhythmbox problem, but it turned out to be a PulseAudio problem. The fix is here--thanks to MRA2011!

In emacs or a lesser editor open /etc/pulse/, change this line:
   load-module module-udev-detect
to this
   load-module module-udev-detect tsched=0

Then restart PulseAudio,
   pulseaudio -k

Recent/Current Power Outages, Central Maryland Edition

I was just without power for 4 3/8 days, and given the heat, this wasn't great. Others had it worse though, since I never lost water, I didn't have much food in the refrigerator and freezer, and I was able to go to work to recharge my laptop, use the Internet, and be in AC for the hottest periods. A few thoughts on being temporarily without electricity:
  1. LED flashlights and lanterns are wonderful. In my 5 nights of blackout, none of my flashlights ran out of juice. Also, I have a Rayovac LED lantern which went strong through the whole thing.
  2. A battery-powered radio is a must. I have a Sangean PR-D7 with 6 NiMH AA cells. When plugged into the wall it keeps the batteries charged. Even at the end of the outage, after several hours of use, it was reporting a full charge.
  3. NiMH batteries are great. I'd hate to be one of those out searching for batteries during the outage. Searching for breakfast was enough trouble.
  4. Being able to keep my cell phone charged was a major plus. For the first day or so after the storm, the Sprint cellular network was having it's problems and at least one 911 service in northern Virginia was reportedly not accepting calls from cell phones, but having phone service is important. I have a Goal Zero 19006 Guide 10 solar charger, which provides plenty of power for my cell phone and my Kindle.
  5. Candles should be saved for more extreme situations. Last night out on a walk I noticed a house in the neighborhood burning candles. This seems dangerous to me, and with minor preparations entirely unnecessary for just a few days without power. Of course, with no way of charging batteries, eventually candles become a natural choice, but why mess with fire before you need to?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Foreshadowing a Tea Party Future

I'm approaching 3 days with no electricity, which isn't such a big deal (some people also lost water--bigger deal), but it does get one thinking. It's hard to deny that the future holds more of these longish-term outages than we are used to:
  1. The US is not maintaining current infrastructure: electricity, water, transit, sewer, etc.
  2. The US is moving much more slowly than, say, Germany, on modernizing the electrical grid.
  3. The fossil fuel industry lobby has a strong enough sway on politicians and Fox "News," especially now that there is no limit in this country to how much a corporation can give to a political cause, that a significant portion of the US public still hasn't figured out that global warming is happening and that we are largely to blame. This follows the patterns of the tobacco lobby, the evolution debate, and the Copernican revolution.  Powerful forces repeatedly oppose science and the public interest.
So, as the infrastructure continues to decay and the weather becomes more harsh, more of us will be spending more time with fewer utilities. Couple this with the growing wealth of the very rich and the shrinking middle class, and the US appears to face serious challenges.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sarah Donner

An e-mail from EFF led me to The Oatmeal ( which offers much thoughtful humor and content from Sarah Donner, a video and free song download called "The *otherf*ing Pterydactyl." Anyhow, Sarah Donner has music, including several other free downloads, at her web page. It's good stuff, and mostly not just 128 kb/s sample rate.

As an example of the humor (please note the word 'extremist') I'll present this:

Okay, I Might Turn the AC On

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Orbitz Treating Mac and Windows Users Differently

An interesting piece on All Things Considered today, explaining that Orbitz pitches higher-priced options to Mac users than to Windows Users. Apparently Orbitz has data showing that Mac users are willing to spend more on their trips. Interesting. Another interesting thing was that the NPR reporter, Laura Sydell, was surprised that Orbiitz knows what kind of PC a visitor is using; nice to get occasional reminders of how naive many users are. The NPR piece is here.

There was a shorter piece tonight on Marketplace as well.

[ Note added 21:00: BTW, no knock on Laura Sydell--I'm glad she reported the piece and she did a fine job. It's more that developers and privacy advocates need reminders like this that most people have no idea how much data their browsers are sending to corporate servers. ]

Still Happy to Not Have a Facebook Account

This morning facebook changed their users' contact information to Facebook addresses. Lovely. So now non-Facebook-users will have their e-mail addresses captured by Facebook if we respond to mails from those addresses. Probably in itself not a big deal. But it's just another example of Facebook knowing they can treat their users with no respect and few of the users will leave.

Another issue is that as people start responding from their Facebook addresses, will others trust that the sender really is who it seems to be? Will people open bogus Facebook accounts to spoof other people? Clearly yes, but that happens with most providers. Again, probably not really a big deal.

Of course, current Facebook users are annoyed because they have to either change the contact info in their profiles back to their preferred e-mail addresses or start checking e-mail in multiple places. Do you really want e-mail between your financial institutions and yourself going through Facebook? I don't think so. Do you really want work-related e-mail going through Facebook? I don't think so.

It'll be a little while before I respond to e-mail from Facebook accounts. Hopefully others will resist this power grab.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Skype Insanity: No Longer Worth It

Tonight I noticed that I didn't have Google Voice or Skype installed on my primary desktop, which I recently upgraded to Linux Mint 13, so I decided to remedy the situation. Installing Google Voice was painless, easy, an quick. Installing Skype appears insane, I don't remember it being so bad in the past. Anyhow, to install Skype, I need to install 240-some additional packages. No frigging way:

The following NEW packages will be installed:
  bluez bluez-alsa:i386 gcc-4.6-base:i386 glib-networking:i386
  gstreamer0.10-plugins-base:i386 gstreamer0.10-plugins-good:i386
  gstreamer0.10-x:i386 gtk2-engines:i386 gtk2-engines-murrine:i386
  gtk2-engines-oxygen:i386 gtk2-engines-pixbuf:i386 gvfs:i386 gvfs-libs:i386
  ia32-libs ia32-libs-multiarch:i386 ibus-gtk:i386 lib32asound2 lib32gcc1
  lib32stdc++6 libaa1:i386 libacl1:i386 libaio1:i386 libao-common libao4:i386
  libasn1-8-heimdal:i386 libasound2:i386 libasound2-plugins:i386
  libasyncns0:i386 libatk1.0-0:i386 libattr1:i386 libaudio2:i386
  libaudiofile1:i386 libavahi-client3:i386 libavahi-common-data:i386
  libavahi-common3:i386 libavc1394-0:i386 libbz2-1.0:i386 libc6:i386
  libc6-i386 libcaca0:i386 libcairo-gobject2:i386 libcairo2:i386
  libcanberra-gtk-module:i386 libcanberra-gtk0:i386 libcanberra0:i386
  libcap2:i386 libcapi20-3:i386 libcdparanoia0:i386 libcomerr2:i386
  libcroco3:i386 libcups2:i386 libcupsimage2:i386 libcurl3:i386
  libdatrie1:i386 libdb5.1:i386 libdbus-1-3:i386 libdbus-glib-1-2:i386
  libdrm-intel1:i386 libdrm-nouveau1a:i386 libdrm-radeon1:i386 libdrm2:i386
  libdv4:i386 libesd0:i386 libexif12:i386 libexpat1:i386 libffi6:i386
  libflac8:i386 libfontconfig1:i386 libfreetype6:i386 libgail-common:i386
  libgail18:i386 libgcc1:i386 libgconf-2-4:i386 libgcrypt11:i386
  libgd2-xpm:i386 libgdbm3:i386 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0:i386 libgettextpo0:i386
  libgl1-mesa-dri:i386 libgl1-mesa-glx:i386 libglapi-mesa:i386
  libglib2.0-0:i386 libglu1-mesa:i386 libgnome-keyring0:i386 libgnutls26:i386
  libgomp1:i386 libgpg-error0:i386 libgphoto2-2:i386 libgphoto2-port0:i386
  libgpm2:i386 libgssapi-krb5-2:i386 libgssapi3-heimdal:i386
  libgstreamer-plugins-base0.10-0:i386 libgstreamer0.10-0:i386
  libgtk2.0-0:i386 libgudev-1.0-0:i386 libhcrypto4-heimdal:i386
  libheimbase1-heimdal:i386 libheimntlm0-heimdal:i386 libhx509-5-heimdal:i386
  libibus-1.0-0:i386 libice6:i386 libidn11:i386 libiec61883-0:i386
  libieee1284-3:i386 libjack-jackd2-0:i386 libjasper1:i386 libjpeg-turbo8:i386
  libjpeg8:i386 libjson0:i386 libk5crypto3:i386 libkeyutils1:i386
  libkrb5-26-heimdal:i386 libkrb5-3:i386 libkrb5support0:i386 liblcms1:i386
  libldap-2.4-2:i386 libllvm3.0:i386 libltdl7:i386 libmad0:i386
  libmikmod2:i386 libmng1:i386 libmpg123-0:i386 libmysqlclient18:i386
  libncurses5:i386 libncursesw5:i386 libnspr4:i386 libnss3:i386 libodbc1:i386
  libogg0:i386 libopenal1:i386 liborc-0.4-0:i386 libp11-kit0:i386
  libpango1.0-0:i386 libpciaccess0:i386 libpcre3:i386 libpixman-1-0:i386
  libpng12-0:i386 libproxy1:i386 libpulse-mainloop-glib0:i386 libpulse0:i386
  libpulsedsp:i386 libqt4-dbus:i386 libqt4-declarative:i386
  libqt4-designer:i386 libqt4-network:i386 libqt4-opengl:i386
  libqt4-qt3support:i386 libqt4-script:i386 libqt4-scripttools:i386
  libqt4-sql:i386 libqt4-sql-mysql:i386 libqt4-svg:i386 libqt4-test:i386
  libqt4-xml:i386 libqt4-xmlpatterns:i386 libqtcore4:i386 libqtgui4:i386
  libqtwebkit4:i386 libraw1394-11:i386 libroken18-heimdal:i386 librsvg2-2:i386
  librsvg2-common:i386 librtmp0:i386 libsamplerate0:i386 libsane:i386
  libsasl2-2:i386 libsasl2-modules:i386 libsdl-image1.2:i386
  libsdl-mixer1.2:i386 libsdl-net1.2:i386 libsdl-ttf2.0-0:i386
  libsdl1.2debian:i386 libselinux1:i386 libshout3:i386 libslang2:i386
  libsm6:i386 libsndfile1:i386 libsoup-gnome2.4-1:i386 libsoup2.4-1:i386
  libspeex1:i386 libspeexdsp1:i386 libsqlite3-0:i386 libssl0.9.8:i386
  libssl1.0.0:i386 libstdc++5:i386 libstdc++6:i386 libtag1-vanilla:i386
  libtag1c2a:i386 libtasn1-3:i386 libtdb1:i386 libthai0:i386 libtheora0:i386
  libtiff4:i386 libtinfo5:i386 libudev0:i386 libunistring0:i386
  libusb-0.1-4:i386 libuuid1:i386 libv4l-0:i386 libv4lconvert0:i386
  libvisual-0.4-0:i386 libvisual-0.4-plugins:i386 libvorbis0a:i386
  libvorbisenc2:i386 libvorbisfile3:i386 libwavpack1:i386
  libwind0-heimdal:i386 libwrap0:i386 libx11-6:i386 libx11-xcb1:i386
  libxau6:i386 libxaw7:i386 libxcb-glx0:i386 libxcb-render0:i386
  libxcb-shm0:i386 libxcb1:i386 libxcomposite1:i386 libxcursor1:i386
  libxdamage1:i386 libxdmcp6:i386 libxext6:i386 libxfixes3:i386 libxft2:i386
  libxi6:i386 libxinerama1:i386 libxml2:i386 libxmu6:i386 libxp6:i386
  libxpm4:i386 libxrandr2:i386 libxrender1:i386 libxslt1.1:i386 libxss1:i386
  libxt6:i386 libxtst6:i386 libxv1:i386 libxxf86vm1:i386 mysql-common odbcinst
  odbcinst1debian2 odbcinst1debian2:i386 oss-compat skype xaw3dg:i386
0 upgraded, 246 newly installed, 0 to remove and 14 not upgraded.
Need to get 105 MB of archives.
After this operation, 288 MB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]? n

It appears that many packages listed are specifically 32b--this on a 64b version of Linux Mint. I went back and checked, and I did click the 64b Ubuntu link and the .deb downloaded has a 64 in its name. So, WTF, Microsoft?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Illiteracy at Zoho

Okay, 'illiteracy' is a bit too strong for what I just noticed, but the file upload dialog at Zoho contains a comma splice:

Is it that hard to find employees who have passed high school English?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Manually Configure Your DNS Settings in Linux

Using your ISP's or employer's DNS servers may or may not be a good idea. Are they configured properly? Are they monitoring your lookups? Note that some employers may have policies regarding what DNS servers clients use, so you may want to look into those policies.

When visiting a Wi-Fi hotspot, do you really trust their DNS settings? By default client machines using DHCP will get their DNS settings as well as other addressing information from the DHCP server, which would be the router at a wireless hotspot. Trustworthy? Why would anyone think so?

First, don't bother with the Gnome/Mate/Cinnamon networking applet. It will let you make the change, but doesn't successfully change the system configuration. Instead, find the Network Settings. In the Mate menu it's at System|Administration|Network. It should something look like this:

Click on the padlock where it says "Click to make changes" and enter your root password. Click on the connection you want to configure. For this example I'm using a desktop on a home network using Verizon FiOS. Feeling neither trust nor love for Verizon, I'd rather not trust their DNS servers. Instead, I'll use OpenDNS. Here's a little piece at the bottom of their home page:

Note the two IPv4 addresses, and Enter these addresses in the DNS Servers box under the DNS tab. There are other choices for a public DNS, e.g., Google.

One unfortunate aspect of the GUI management of DNS settings is that with wireless connections, the settings must be made for each access point, which means that the first time you connect to a new access point, the DNS server address will default to the access point or its DNS server. Fix it as above and then restart networking.

At the Google page there is a link to a nice little introduction to DNS security.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Geez, Guys, Salt Your Hashes

LinkedIn confirms that they have had a breach, and PC World has a good discussion. Linkedn has certainly not been following best practices, though we've all seen stupider.
  • Stupider: storing the user passwords. Any site that can come up with your current password is run by  bozos.
According to the PC World article, LinkedIn lost a file containing 6.5M hashed passwords. They used SHA-1 to hash the passwords. SHA-1 is not a great hash algorithm, with NIST recommending it be phased out, but that is not the problem here. The problem is that the the hashes were unsalted. This means that a brute force password guessing program can guess a password, hash it, and see how many hashed passwords it matches. People are bad at choosing passwords, so many passwords are used by multiple people.

Salting involves generating a random number for each password. Then the random number and password are concatenated, and then hashed. This means that 
  1. most likely hashes will be unique, and
  2. even if two hashes are the same, they almost certainly do not correspond to the same password.
For this to work, the random value (the salt) for each password must be stored with the hash, and then when a user logs in the hash and the salt are retrieved, the salt is added to the password the user types, and then the result is hashed. If it matches, the login attempt succeeds.

Thanks to NPR for reporting this and to PC World for explaining what happened.

Google's New Bugger, err, Blogger, No, Bugger Interface Logo

With thanks to Dynamoo.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Least Favorite Spammer: the US Postal Service

The USPS is expanding their Every Door Direct Mail "service." This is the hopefully-recyclable trash that shows up regularly in our mailboxes. In essence, it is spam arriving in my snail-mail box.

The USPS will not stop junk delivery since that is their new profit model. We are no longer the postal customers--businesses of low ethical standards are the customers. I can't help but wonder whether this plan to stem USPS losses short-term will generate long-term ill will. Other than just having to go directly from the mail box to the recycling bin every day, I have to look through the incoming trash carefully, as I believe that one time I discarded the water bill with the junk.

I'm old enough to remember looking forward to the mail coming each day. I like our postal deliverer, and like the fact that she comes through the neighborhood regularly. In addition to being friendly faces who often learn the names of locals, postal deliverers spot things wrong in neighborhoods and occasionally call emergency services. Maybe we could shut the postal service down and the federal government could take some of the savings and send communities grants to be spent on police officers actually walking through neighborhoods, as opposed to speeding through neighborhoods driving while interacting with radios, laptops, donuts, etc.

Around the same time the USPS announced their intent to further promote junk mail, our local mail drop box disappeared, making it harder to bounce spam back to the USPS.
  • First class letters can be refused and returned to the sender.
  • Letters addressed to valued customer can be sent back addressee unknown. If I'm a customer, and they value me, I wouldn't be receiving such tripe. It's clearly not addressed to me.
  • Letters addressed to postal patron can be returned, because unless you are generating bulk mail, you're likely not really much of a postal patron.
  • Unaddressed mail might as well be dropped in a mail box in the hopes that it gets to someone who wants it. Okay, just recycling it is probably better.
Related Polico articleUSPS: We can't fail with junk mail.

Making OpenJDK 7 on Linux Mint 13 actually Work

I had a rude surprise last night after revising and recompiling some Java code: the compiler was, as intended, OpenJDK 7, but the interpreter was OpenJDK 6. So the program barfed.

OpenJDK 7 had previously been installed in the normal way (sudo apt-get install openjdk-7-jdk openjdk-7-source openjdk-7-doc), so that wasn't the problem. The problem was that in /etc/alternatives, some of the tools linked to JDK 6, and some to JDK 7. Blech. An obvious quick fix was to write a script to update all the soft inks, pointing all to OpenJDK 7. This seemed like a hack (in the original CS sense, where a hacker is a careless or unskilled programmer), so I decided to "do it right."

Uninstalling OpenJDK 7, uninstalling OpenJDK 6, and then re-installing OpenJDK 7 seems to have fixed things.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Libre Office Writer & Calc: Disabling Autoinput and Autocomplete

Some time back I wrote a quick how-to on disabling autoinput and autocomplete in Open Office. Libre Office 3 has the same problem: defaults that make the tools harder to use. The instructions there are still essentially correct but the wording on the menus has changed slightly, and I'm working with a fresh install, so I decided this is a good time for an update.

In Libre Office Writer click Tools|Autocorrect Options. Then select the Word Completion tab and uncheck Enable Word Completion. Also uncheck Collect Words, because there is no need to collect words for a feature that will never be used.

In Calc, click Tools and then Cell Contents, and uncheck AutoInput.

[ Note added 10 September 2012: above I should have written OpenOffice and LibreOffice as one word each, not two. Oh well. ]

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Zeitgeist Spyware Framework Installed by Default in Linux Mint 13

I thought I would take a moment to pull together information on the Zeitgeist monitoring system which has become a part of Gnome and is inexplicably included within Linux Mint. First, Zeitgeist is not itself spyware, but it collects much information about a user that would be one-stop shopping for any spyware that finds its way onto a system. It provides no discernible benefit, and is dangerous to keep around, so get rid of it. More information:
  1. My take on what Zeitgeist is.
  2. Zeitgeist was dropped as a component for Gnome 2.32 but the Ubuntu folks decided life wouldn't be complete without a spyware framework.
  3. Removing Zeitgeist.

An Even Nicer Little Improvement in Linux Mint 13

Mint 13, as is common in the Ubuntu world, includes a framework for spyware called zeitgeist. In the past it was challenging to remove since apt would then try to remove the entire gnome environment. So my reaction was to disable it to the extent possible, but it's still dangerous to have this stuff on the system. However, on a Mint 13/Mate system dumping zeitgeist is easy:

  sudo apt-get remove zeitgeist zeitgeist-core zeitgeist-datahub


This is a followup to Nice Little Improvement in Linux Mint 13.

Cloud Storage, Finding an Alternative to Google Drive

Last week I had issues with uploads to Google Drive failing. These uploads are encrypted tarballs (.tgz.cpt) of my incremental backups that I transfer among my home desktop, work desktop, and laptop. I tried out Zoho Docs rather than dropbox just because Zoho offers a lot of extra stuff that looks to be worth exploring, and so an account there could end up being useful. Anyhow, for the last week I've been shuttling these files to and from Zoho (as well as carrying physical copies on a thumb drive) and am mostly happy with Zoho.

Zoho provides 1GB free, but limits upload sizes to 50MB, which was an issue once. This also means I'm unlikely to archive recently-purchased or ripped music there, since those tarballs typically exceed Zoho's limit. So I expect to lean toward Zoho for most of my incremental backup needs, trimming them when they exceed 50MB. If nothing else, Zoho will provide an impetus to limit the size of each.

Question: why a 50MB limit on files when the overall space limit is 20 times that? I guess I can use split.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Another Drawback to Cinnamon

When using Cinnamon, and downloading from a web page, the download window was immobile. If it was covering up a piece of information I wanted, perhaps to use for a directory or file name, unlike every other environment, I couldn't just move the download window over.

Nice Little Improvement in Linux Mint 13

In the past with Ubuntu and Linux Mint it's been difficult to remove some relatively useless packages,  since removing any of these would result in gnome or the like being removed. Not useful, and not logical. Why do I need thunderbird to use my desktop? But now with Mint 13 a simple sudo apt-get remove successfully removes all of the following without making apt think I want to throw away my desktop environment:
  • xchat
  • xchat-common
  • pidgin
  • thunderbird
  • bluez
  • bluez-alsa
  • bluez-cups
  • bluez-gstreamer
  • libbluetooth3 
Trying to remove libgnome-bluetooth8 still results in apt wanting to get rid of the desktop, but being able to easily delete all the above detritus is a big improvement, so I am not complaining.

So I just installed Linux Mint 13 last night on my primary desktop. This is the Mate 64b version. Last week I installed the 32b Cinnamon version on my laptop, and after a couple days, installed Mate and started using that instead. Cinnamon's a valiant effort and to be applauded, but has some significant usability problems.

As long as I'm detailing what I got rid of in Linux Mint 13, here's the initial additions I make and a complete list of what I remove. Additions first:
  • ccrypt emacs tcsh
  • ispell rhythmbox mirage
  • openjdk-7-jdk openjdk-7-source openjdk-7-doc
  • jflex
  • haskell-platform ghc-mod
  • texlive-latex-base texlive-latex-base-doc texlive-latex-extra
  • gftp
  • dia
  • opera
  • gparted
  • easytag
  • openssh-server
  • sound-juicer
  • xsane
  • alacarte
  • gtk-recordmydesktop
Now the removals:
  • banshee
  • tomboy
  • gthumb
  • avahi-daemon avahi-autoipd
  • vino
  • xchat xchat-common
  • pidgin
  • thunderbird
  • bluez bluez-alsa bluez-cups bluez-gstreamer
  • libbluetooth3
BTW, above I used thunderbird as an example of something to be removed. I like thunderbird--it's a good tool. But now I do all my e-mail through web-based interfaces, which is concerning in some respects, but until I decide to break this bad habit, I' do not need a mail client.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why I'm Not Using Cinnamon

I was using Cinnamon on my desktops, and went back to Gnome classic no effects. This with Linux Mint 12.

I installed Linux Mint 13 RC on my laptop, and switched to Mate.

Mate works fine on my laptop. Mate keyboard shortcuts for volume up/down and play/pause do not work on my desktops.

So, why is switching to Cinnamon a bad idea, IMHO?
  • Cinnamon has no no grouping of menu items on the panel.
  • Bumping a window being dragged against the top panel causes it to maximize--a most annoying bug.
  • Nautilus 3.2.1 under Cinnamon shows selected files as pink with no text, or perhaps pink text on a pink background. Sometimes I like to be able to see the name of and related info for a selected file. Really. This is with the list view, which is my preferred default.
  • Under Cinnamon, ImageMagick's pan icon is missing window controls (e.g., close) which should be in the upper right.
  • [ Added 2012-06-02: Cinnamon removes the ability to move the save file dialog within a web browser. ]
I do like the hot corner, but it doesn't outweigh just the lack of grouping of menu items let alone the other problems I'm seeing with Cinnamon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Linux Mint 13 and Mate on Old, Modest Hardware

I have a Dell Inspiron 630m bought around December 2005 with 2 MB RAM and a single 1.73 GHz CPU core. Ubuntu dropped support for 10.04 "LTS," so it was time to find a replacement. Linux Mint was a no-brainer, and going with Linux Mint 13, Maya, allows me to play around with the new release. For the UI, I started with Cinnamon, but decided to also see if maybe Mate is ready to use--the answer on that is yes, which I'll discuss soon.

My main question was performance, and I see no difference on that account between Mint and Ubuntu 10.04. And it works. Thumbs up to Linux Mint 13 with Mate 1.2.0.

Gmail Labs' "Send and Archive" vs. "Undo Send"

I've long found Gmail's Undo Send feature to be very useful. I often send without fully proofreading, and this gives me a chance to retract and correct a message before it really goes out. Nice.

Send and Archive is also a nice feature. When replying to an e-mail, rather than separately sending and archiving, one can send and archive with a single click.

The rub, however, is that send and archive doesn't have an undo control, and so now if I fail to proof a message, tough, it is gone. Ultimately, one has to decide which feature is more important, and I'd rather appear literate than save myself a click now and then (well, several times per day).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Google Drive Non-Op

Earlier this morning uploads of files (.tgz.cpt typically) to Google Drive from my home system failed consistently, for both my UMBC and my personal accounts. Now that I'm on campus, things seem to be working again, and I was able to mail all 19MB to myself via Gmail, so it was a survivable situation, but I need to check out dropbox.

I'm concerned the Drive might work more reliably with a client on my machine, which is not going to happen:

  1. Google as of recently had no Drive client for Linux, and
  2. I already installed Picasa on my machine once, and it immediately ransacked my hard drive, even before I was able to tell it where my pictures were. I suspect it was just looking for image files, but, not having a week to read the privacy policy, I killed it and uninstalled it right away. I wanted a program to ease uploads to Picasa and management of albums on Picasa, and clearly the Google client was much more than that. How can I trust a Drive client on my machine?
Time to checkout dropbox. Thumb drives and e-mailing oneself big attachments are fine, but I need a solid backup or replacement for Google Drive.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ubuntu LTS

Ubuntu has, as expected, dropped support for Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Thinking that 2 years is too short for something called "long-term support," I visited to see what the deal was. First, they erroneously claim the 10.04 Desktop will be supported through 2013. Sorry, my laptop says it's no longer supported, and when I do an apt-get update/upgrade it very clearly tells me I am no longer receiving security updates.

They also say they are going from 3 (they clearly mean 2) years to 5 for LTS, which is a good move, but came too late to avoid my blowing away yet another Ubuntu system for Linux Mint.

Added a dozen hours later, after reading some fine print regarding the Linux Mint 13 RC at, I thought I would point out yet another thing the Mint team is doing more intelligently than we've become accustomed to from the Ubuntu folks: Linux Mint 13 is also an LTS (Long Term Support) release and it will be supported until April 2017.

Fours years is good. Especially as compared to two.

Starting out in Cinnamon (w/Linux Mint 12)

[ Note added 2012-05-31: I no longer use Cinnamon. Here's why: ]

I've been using Linux Mint 12 for awhile, and 11 briefly before that, ever since I got fed up with Gnome's decision that the user interface is unimportant.

Thursday a grad student asked me if I'd tried Cinnamon, which apparently he has liked on a few different platforms. This left me with a choice: work on the finals I would be delivering, or mess with Cinnamon. I chose Cinnamon, though I now must admit that my IS 247 exam suffered from insufficient proofreading.

I like Cinnamon, and recommended it to a friend, who didn't see much difference between it and what he had been running (probably Gnome Classic or Mate) on a Mint system.  I responded with a summary of my experiences with Cinnamon to date:

First, switching to Cinnamon on my recommendation should be worth some placebo effect. If not:

The panels are configurable, and it's okay to have just one.

TFM: the wrench & screwdriver  in the main menu leads to a different place from System Tools|System Settings wrench & screwdriver. If you select Menu|Wrench & Screwdriver, one of the options is Hot Corner. Make it visible, place it in a corner not otherwise critically used (it's translucent) and play with it.

I was using Gnome Classic with no effects, because with effects keyboard shortcuts didn't work. With Mate my volume controls (alt-up, alt-down) didn't work. This does everything Mate does without breaking keyboard shortcuts (big deal) and also allowing effects (not a big deal).

I really like Hot Corner.

Cinnamon has more themes than Gnome Classic, but still not one I really like. A little googling, though, led me to a page on creating themes, and it does look simple, except I'll be editing CSS and am unclear regarding what some of the tags are. I'll either find docs or experiment.

What I really want are larger fonts in the panel and top bars on windows that change colors noticeably between selected and not selected.

There is one clear-cut bug that I've seen: Under Cinnamon, Gnome Terminal 3.0.1 doesn't consistently switch its cursor to solid block (from outline) when the window has focus. A minor aggravation.

I have an old (ca. 12/2005) Dell laptop running Ubuntu 10.4 LTS. Ubuntu's LTS is rather short, and has expired, so I think I'll blow that away in favor of the Mint13 RC, Cinnamon, and Mate. If Mate is less buggy in the Mint 13 environment than Mint 12 (they use the word mature to describe it, but I have yet to see evidence of that) it might be a good choice. Anyhow, the new Mint 13, Cinnamon, and Mate on modest hardware seems worth learning about.