2010-11-29

I got back to college yesterday night. While I flew home, I came back on a Peter Pan bus. It was pretty nice because there weren't any inane weight restrictions and there certainly weren't any security checks of any kind. I just got on the bus and went on my way. Plus, the tickets were pretty reasonable (considering that it was pretty nice inside the bus): $25 per leg. Until the TSA lets up on this ridiculous security theater (there, I said it), this is how I'll probably travel from now on for these distances (if someone doesn't drive me). (Of course, for longer distances still, road travel doesn't become such a good option.) Oh, and the quotes in the title? That's the sentiment of opinion writers who support the TSA rules; they think that we are all just acting childish in our opposition to the new rules. Is being violated childish? Plus, do you really expect that government officials won't misuse the scanners' images in some way soon? But then again, the seats aren't especially comfortable on buses for long travel times (though they aren't any better on planes — the flight times themselves are just shorter). I think for distances close to that between my home and my college, the ideal solution would be high-speed rail. It'll be cheaper, quicker, and more comfortable than taking a bus, and it will probably have fewer hassles than flying. So when can we get that again? Featured Comments: Week of 2010 November 21 I want to apologize for not having posted this yesterday as usual. I was traveling back to college (more on that in an upcoming post) and didn't have computer access all day. There were quite a few comments on posts this week, so I won't repost all of them. Adafruit Bears Fruit for Microsoft In response to my question about why Microsoft seemed so defensive, an anonymous reader had this to say: "Because Microsoft stir hackers' defiance whenever they say they have protected their products. For Microsoft, it was just saying "I challenge you to hack my ultra-securized device", and some hackers successfully took in the challenge. the Microsoft PR guys are just brilliant, they just took advantage of the company's reputation and the situation actually did beget creativity, the sort of creativity that will eventually benefit the Redmond-based behemoth." Another anonymous commenter counters this: "Why do you think the developer at Microsoft who claimed that it would be easy to hack really telling the truth? I think it is just a post-construction when they realized that it was impossible to stop. And then everything is back to normal again, MS is and will remain evil :-)" Another anonymous reader thinks it's because of sheer ignorance on Microsoft's part: "The data format was not "ultrasecurized" at all. They didn't know what was going on they just heard "kinect hacking" and gave a generic response which applied to a physical type hacking, with soldering and all. This was not a physical hack but a reverse engineering of the data format." Ubuntu to Become a Rolling Release Distribution In response to the update about the news being not-quite-true, reader T_Beermonster wrote, "I think that's a shame that they back-pedalled. Since I went rolling release with aptosid I don't think I'd be willing to go back to a step-change release model. I can see why it may be easier to sell support contracts for a step-release model but I don't think it actually offers any benefit to a desktop user." Linux Mint: Good for Low-Requirement and Paranoid Users Reader Arjun Krishna had this to say about it: "Windows is one of the worst OSes I have ever had. Linux Mint 10 "Julia" is definitely one of the most stable and user-friendly Operating systems in the world! Open SUSE is also a good alternative to Linux Mint, in case the system is older, and has less RAM. In any case, any Unix based OS would be much better to work with than a Windows based OS." Also, commenter herbalfroot wrote, " Everyone for whom I have installed *buntu and mint have nothing but praise for the desktop they now have. These include non-technical users. I roll my eyes to the sky whenever I hear 'Linux is too difficult for the average user'." Thanks to everyone who commented this week. Unfortunately, for the next two and a half weeks, I'll be quite busy, so don't expect to see a whole lot of new posts. In any case, as always, if you like what I write, please subscribe! 2010-11-26 Linux Mint: Good for Low-Requirement and Paranoid Users Two days ago, I helped a friend (whose identity I will not reveal here) perform a Linux Mint installation on her computer. That computer had Microsoft Windows 7 on it which was becoming extremely slow and unreliable by her own count. Because of this, she was willing to try something new. She doesn't really do much aside from web browsing and document creation; hence, I figured that something like Linux Mint would be perfect for her. I let her try out what she would use most before installing, and she seemed happy with it; even during the installation process, I only helped if she had a question for me, which is a testament to how easy Linux Mint (version 9 LTS "Isadora") is to install. I showed her around the Software Manager, which allowed her to install things like Skype and Chromium. All in all, the installation and configuration process took about half an hour, and she seems quite happy with it so far. (In fact, I'm envious of her, because her laptop can suspend and hibernate well in Linux Mint, whereas mine can't.) Yesterday, I talked to another friend of mine in the area, and his parents have set up parental controls in tandem with an antivirus program on his Microsoft Windows XP computer. It slows his computer down and he can't visit sites like YouTube and Google sometimes because they are occasionally listed as "inappropriate". (Proxies don't help because most of the big proxies have been blocked by that program as well; also, he's well past the age where parental controls would be necessary.) I told him about the concept of a Linux live CD and how he can either install it to bypass Microsoft Windows XP and its programs or just work from the live CD and not leave a trace. He seems really interested in that now (though we'll see how it goes). My point in all this is: can we please dispel the myth that Linux is "too hard to use for a new user"? If the user is like the first person mentioned and doesn't do much more than browse the Internet and create documents, the user will probably never see the command line — ever. If the user is like the second person, there really isn't a substitute for a Linux live CD (because the obvious solution (removing the program) isn't an option for obvious reasons). 2010-11-25 Happy Thanksgiving! (and My TSA Experience) Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope you all are able to spend it with family, friends, and other loved ones; I've come home from college for the weekend. On a related note, I did have to go through the new security procedures and I got the grope. That said, though I am still a bit wary of the whole thing, I'm happy to report that the security person was extremely polite, professional, hygienic (changing gloves before examining me), and didn't actually go directly over my nether regions, so not once did I feel truly uncomfortable in the process. Once again, happy Thanksgiving to everyone! 2010-11-24 Ubuntu to Become a Rolling Release Distribution This just in, folks: Ubuntu is about to become (Susan Linton, OStatic) a rolling release distribution! SWEET! Of course, this means no more weird numbering system, and no more silly "[adjective]-[animal]" names...or does it? Mark Shuttleworth does say that like any other rolling release distribution, Ubuntu will release ISOs periodically for people who are installing for the first time as well as for people who need to reinstall Ubuntu for whatever reason. I'm not too happy about the move to Unity, and I'm cautiously optimistic about the move to Wayland, but I can say for sure that I'm ecstatic about this news. I really do agree that in an Internet-oriented world (reflecting Ubuntu's new/revised goals as well), rolling-release is the way to go. Of course, this leads me to the question: what about Linux Mint? One of the reasons Linux Mint made a straight-up Debian-based edition was to take advantage of the rolling release model in the "Testing" distribution. Now that Ubuntu does that too, does this mean that Linux Mint will follow suit whenever that happens and drop the "Debian" edition altogether? I'm excited to see what's in store for the future! (UPDATE: As it turns out, Ubuntu isn't actually going on the rolling-release route. All it's doing is essentially integrating the PPA functionality into the main system to allow people to get the latest versions of third-party software like Mozilla Firefox. I remember some Ubuntu developers mentioning this before (specifically regarding Mozilla Firefox), so this doesn't come as a huge surprise. That said, I'm a little disappointed that it's not what I thought it was.) 2010-11-23 Adafruit Bears Fruit for Microsoft Several days ago, open-source hardware company Adafruit offered a "bounty" of$3000 for the first person to hack Microsoft's Kinect (formerly Project Natal) device. For those of you who don't know, Kinect was originally just an add-on hardware accessory for the Microsoft XBOX 360 allowing for motion sensing of one's full body (as opposed to using an external device, like the Wiimote in Nintendo's Wii). However, companies like Adafruit saw the additional value in a product like this, and Adafruit offered a cash prize for whoever could first release an open-source driver (not necessary for Linux per se) for the Kinect. (Someone did win and receive the cash prize already.) Since then, dozens of new and interesting uses for the Kinect have come up, including being able to manipulate pictures and videos using just your arms (sci-fi style) and being able to make a movie of you using a lightsaber in real time by having the Kinect track the motion of you swinging around a long stick. The possibilities are virtually endless.
More interesting, however, is Microsoft's response to all this. First, they angrily condemned this cash prize offer saying they don't condone such modifications; furthermore, they seemed to vaguely threaten legal action against Adafruit and/or the skilled hacker. Later, once the prize had been claimed, however, Microsoft backed down from the legal threats, probably because even they knew they wouldn't stand a chance in court. Now, after all this, a Microsoft engineer has admitted that the Kinect was designed to be easy to hack for exactly these sorts of purposes.
So my question is, why wasn't Microsoft open and up-front about this from the start? Unlike Bart Simpson and Nelson Muntz, they don't have a "bad-boy" reputation to protect. If they had been open about this from the start, people who were cowered into submission and inaction by Microsoft's threats would have otherwise tried their hands at the Kinect, leading to more competition and possibly even higher-quality drivers (and even more possibilities). It looks like Microsoft is admitting that it needs to look like a bully even if it really isn't at times; why?

2010-11-21

I remember seeing a couple comments spread out over reviews I've done in the past asking why I don't do my reviews now through actual live media. Well, the reason was that with my new laptop, for the longest time I thought that USB booting was a lost cause; furthermore, I didn't want to waste the few blank CDs and DVDs I had (and still have) on random distributions.
Well, I'm happy to report that I can in fact boot from USB on my laptop (and in fact, I'm writing this from a Linux Mint "Debian" 201009 GNOME live USB), and for this I need to apologize to those commenters who sincerely asked why I wasn't more sincere in my own distribution testing. I'm truly sorry that my laziness (in terms of actually taking time to look for an answer) mislead all of us. That said, testing with VirtualBox has been fun in its own way (and I may still do that with "light" distributions to see things like how little RAM they really need), but now that I know I can use live USBs in my laptop, I'll certainly be doing that, as I can now test things like USB support, 3D compositing support, and webcam support that I couldn't before.
Oh, and for the record, the issue was that I was manipulating the wrong BIOS submenu to give the USB device boot priority over the hard drive. Now I know...

Featured Comments: Week of 2010 November 14

This past week, only one post garnered comments.

Review: GNU/Linux Utopia 20101211 (Idea by Manuel)

Manuel had this to say about it: "Thanks for review i agree in a lot of things, i think is coming a newer version soon, anyway it's slackware, whats in minds no dependencies control, no language selector, no user selector, if normally i use Debian/Ubuntu with apt-get and similars slackware looks strange
Tip:
We working in a tutorial and screencasts.
Thanks fro review, nice job! thanks!"
On the other hand, an anonymous commenter had this question: "Why on *Earth* would you think you have even the slightest ability to produce a decent review when you don't even speak the language the entire distribution is designed in?" I have already responded to that, so I won't repost that here.

Thanks to Manuel and the anonymous reader for commenting on that post. Please note that I probably won't have that many posts this week, but in any case, if you like the material, please do subscribe!

2010-11-20

LG Cell Phone City ID Gripes (and 0x100 Posts!)

Das U-Blog now has 0x100 (the hexadecimal number 100, equal to 256 in the standard decimal system) posts! Yay!
That aside, I've been having some issues with my cell phone. I'm not talking about call, build, sound, or photography quality; I'm talking about a feature called "City ID". When I first got the phone, whenever I made or received calls, I could see not only the name and number of the person in question but also that person's location (and I believe this is based on the location where the phone is first activated, not the real-time location). It still seems like a pretty cool feature, but unfortunately, the trial version of this feature expired a few weeks after I got the phone. Since then, my phone has been bugging me far too often about whether I want to upgrade to the paid subscription for the program now or later. (How about never?) These messages first started appearing once every few days, but it seems like they've increased in frequency since then, and now it seems like they appear every other time I press a button on my phone when it's powered on. Recently, it's gotten even worse.
A few weeks ago, instead of this message, I finally got the option to completely remove the program from my phone. Without any hesitation, I did so immediately, and it was gone for a few days. You can probably tell by that statement that it came back after that, and that is what happened.
A few days ago, I got a message asking if I want to renew the free trial, so I said yes (rather foolishly). Instead of getting that, I got this weird screen full of news that would only belong in the National Enquirer. I quickly got out of that page and have noticed nothing relating to that since then. Of course, the messages asking me to renew "City ID" have only gotten more frequent.
I'm getting the feeling that this is some sort of malware (not deliberately malicious, but just extremely annoying) and that I need to remove it somehow. I've searched a little bit on the Internet for help in this regard and have found nothing so far. Does anyone have any idea how I can get this cursed program off my phone for good?
(UPDATE: A couple minutes after finishing and saving this post, I did just one more search but with more general search terms and I found the results I needed on the first page itself. Wow! Hopefully this really does mean that "City ID" is gone for good from my phone.)

2010-11-19

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

Yesterday I got to see an advanced screening of this movie with many other MIT students. It was a lot of fun, though there were a couple mishaps regarding getting there (for some reason handicap-accessible taxis can't be counted on to arrive at a specific time, according to one company), but that's all fine now.
The movie? It was great! The only thing I will say is that the director overdid the relationship between Harry and Hermione (because in the book that was solely a figment of Ron's imagination).

2010-11-16

Chickening Out on the Chicken Tax

I was reading an article in the New York Times about the proposed overhaul of the New York City taxi fleet; all of the finalists in the selection process are minivans targeted at small business owners (Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200, and Turkish company Karsan's entry). Just for fun, I searched all three on Wikipedia (and got no results for the last one). While reading the article about the first, I saw that it goes through a rather ridiculous shipping/manufacturing process just to avoid the "chicken tax". I then clicked that article.
Apparently, this tax was put into place in the 1960s in response to France and West Germany's tariffs on goods like chicken. Since then, all the terms of the tax have been lifted except for the tax on light trucks. What this means is that automakers must build light trucks and minivans like these in the US to avoid this rather excessive (and needless) tax. This doesn't just apply to foreign automakers; as you can see, this applies to Ford as well with its Transit Connect. To get around it (because Ford's US plants aren't capable of building the Transit Connect (yet)), Ford imports these vehicles with windows and rear seats (thus qualifying as a passenger vehicle and thus making it exempt from the tax) and then rips out the seats and seatbelts and replaces the windows with metal panels once in the US.
Isn't that ridiculous and ridiculously wasteful (both of materials and money, which goes to show that quite a few taxes create real waste)? (Granted, the seats and windows are recycled, but it would still probably be less wasteful to just not use the materials at all as opposed to processing these materials at a recycling center after the fact.) Also, isn't it ironic that domestic companies that are supposed to be helped by these tariffs are actually being directly hurt by them? The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, calls this tax a "policy looking for a rationale". It may have made a little sense 50 years ago, but now, I wholeheartedly agree with them. Will common sense please stand up?

2010-11-14

Review: GNU/Linux Utopia 12112010 (Idea by Manuel)

 GNU/Linux Utopia Main Screen
Reader Manuel kindly asked me to write a review of a distribution he has created called GNU/Linux Utopia, and I am doing that right now. Available on SourceForge, it is a feature-packed Slackware (64-bit)-based distribution tailored for Spanish-language users. As I do not know Spanish, it was interesting for me to see just how well I can navigate a (literally) foreign environment using only what I already know about Linux DEs. Plus, this is my first experience testing a distribution based on Slackware, the oldest surviving Linux distribution today. I wasn't really sure how this modified or built upon Slackware, so it also gave me an opportunity to possibly see what it's like to use Slackware. Follow the jump to read about the rest of this experience and to see if it really is a GNU/Linux "utopia".

Featured Comments: Week of 2010 November 7

There weren't too many comments this week, and they were spread out over different posts, so I'll repost most of them.

Ease: An Elementary Presentation Application

In response to Ease not working at all, an anonymous commenter said, "You should be at "Ease" to put it in the trash where it belongs...".

Airport Traveling Gripes

An anonymous reader had this to say: "This new full-body scan/procedure was really started by the failed Christmas attack of last year, not the cargo plane attempt. As you know, the attacker hid the explosives in his underwear, something that the new full-body scanner would have detected. The failed cargo plane attack sort of sped things up. I'm not saying I agree with the new full-body scans, but I just wanted to comment on your ": why should a plot to sneak explosives onto a cargo plane..." statement".

Thanks to all those who commented on this week's posts, and please do continue to do so. Again, if you like this material, please do subscribe!

2010-11-13

Airport Traveling Gripes

In a week and a half, I will be heading back home by airplane for the Thanksgiving holidays. Thus, I will have to deal with all the truly ridiculous "security" measures at the airport that are being talked about today.
(Side note: there's a really nice xkcd comic about this as well, discussing how inconsistent it is to confiscate small liquid containers yet allow laptop batteries to go through.)
Anyway, there seems to be a real backlash (Derek Kravitz, Washington Post) against the new super-restrictive rules regarding full-body frisks and scanners; while before, when new restrictions were put in place, people would grudgingly accept them and move on, now most people think these particular rules cross the line of decent and sane security measures into the realm of indecency and violation of rights.
There are a couple of things I don't get about this (the new frisking measures, not the backlash). It seems like this was prompted by a plot to blow up a cargo plane. Does anyone else see anything wrong with this? OK, I'll say it: why should a plot to sneak explosives onto a cargo plane and detonate them remotely lead to restrictions allowing security officials to pat you down fully on passenger planes? There seems to be no cause-effect connection at all here; it just seems totally arbitrary.
Furthermore, the numerous quotes of passengers describing these new rules as the TSA treating passengers like criminals isn't hyperbole by any means; an analyst at a security consultancy in Oregon has described the new procedures as "the same frisking that police use with probable cause". This is more serious than "reasonable suspicion"; this means that the TSA has a strong feeling that every single traveler is probably a terrorist. Hence, I will also say this to the TSA: stop treating us like criminals! What ever happened to the presumption of innocence?
Finally, why is it OK for the government to be violating people like this? I remember learning in a set of videos required by my college over the summer that "unless there's consent, it's assault". Does that mean they're technically sexually assaulting us all? Or are they going to pull the excuse of "by flying, you are automatically consenting to all of our procedures"?

2010-11-12

Preview: Debian 6 "Squeeze" (Part 4: Standard)

There are a couple of things I want to say before beginning with the real content of this post. First of all, I want to apologize for not having written a post for a few days. That said, I did warn at the beginning of this semester that my work may make me busy enough to be unable to write a post, and that's exactly what happened in these few days. Furthermore, it will likely happen again soon, as I anticipate being fairly busy this weekend and next week.
Second, this is not a Debian version that I wanted to test for the sake of testing it; my ultimate goal is to install the Trinity DE and thus make an Oxidized Trinity variant based on Debian. There will be no screenshots because most of the action occurs at the terminal; the finished Oxidized Trinity screenshots will be included in a separate article (because I haven't yet finished). Debian needs no further introduction, so follow the jump to see the rest. I followed these tutorials to do this: this one on doing a net installation of "Squeeze", and this one on doing a minimal net installation of Debian 4 "Etch" with the X Windowing System.

2010-11-08

Ease: An Elementary Presentation Application

GNOME Office has always had a pretty good word processor (Abiword) and a great spreadsheet program (Gnumeric). Abiword is fine for most things, though it can't fully support exporting documents in Microsoft formats (though it says that older versions of Microsoft Office Word did the same as well) and it doesn't support all macros. Gnumeric is great for statistical analysis, speed, and having every single feature present in Microsoft Excel (save a few). What GNOME Office has always lacked, though, is a presentation program. Sure, Evince could always display presentations, but there was no tool to create them. Now that's changed, as there's a new kid on the block: Ease (UPDATE: here's the link to the site).
Ease is supposed to be the tool to complete GNOME Office and is obviously trying to make it into the Elementary project as its website is clearly influenced by the Elementary project. Its aim is to make the creation of presentations a lot simpler. It's still a work in progress, as it can't export to formats other than PDF, HTML, or PostScript, among other issues. Naturally, I was curious to see how good it really is, so I fired up my Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME RC virtual live system and installed Ease.
Well, unfortunately, work in progress it most certainly is. Ease just refused to start. I'm not entirely sure what's going on, as all the dependencies were properly installed within the live session. There could be a number of possible contributing factors: it could be because of the live session, the non-final status of Linux Mint, or the non-final status of Ease. I'm going to go with the third option. I had high hopes, and I still do, but I hope that Ease does get over these stability issues soon. When it does work, I hope to include it in Fresh OS along with Abiword and Gnumeric.

2010-11-07

Featured Comments: Week of 2010 October 31

There were a few posts this past week that got comments, so I'll go through most of them.

Seriously? Vegan Chicken Wings?

Reader T_Beermonster had this, among other things, to say: "I suspect that a large part of the pseudo-meat boom is down to the fact that for most non-vegetarians cooking for the lone vegetarian (aka awkward person) is an annoyance and an afterthought. I know that most of my family when cooking for my wife will just fall into the lazy practice of cooking the same thing but with faux-meat. Obviously it tastes revolting but that doesn't matter because:
a) the cook isn't going to be eating it.
b) if they cared what the food tasted like the awkward one would be eating meat like everyone else."

How-To: Remaster Debian 6 "Squeeze"

An anonymous commenter (who later posted a few more times to clarify some points) said, "Hi, thanks for the post.
I've bookmarked it for my reference once I have time to try remastersys.
Please inform what files or folder did you copied to /etc/skel.
Btw, do you mind to share the theme of this blog, I really like it :)"

Why Safe Browsing Habits Don't Guarantee Anything

Reader T_Beermonster had this to say among other things: "A computer doesn't even need to be networked to get infected. I'm currently restoring my nieces ex-laptop (dead dvd drive, broken hinges, slow as treacle running uphill) for one of her younger siblings (as yet undecided). It has had the modem removed and the network interface disabled (I say disabled, I suspect broken would be a more correct description) it has not been online anytime in the last 3 years. Naturally while I had it I thought I'd better run some antivirus software on and download all the service packs and hotfixes (achieved via my own linux box and a USB stick). Naturally the laptop was riddled with malware.
Now that malware got on the computer via USB, Floppy or CD (before the drive broke). Some fairly simple precautions may have helped (disabling autorun being the most obvious) and I'm putting them in place, but I'm pretty sure that when I next see that laptop it will have more for me to remove."

Thanks to everyone who commented this week, and again, if you enjoy the material, please do continue commenting and subscribing! Also, Fresh OS is now out on the project's SourceForge page (and the wiki is more complete than before), so please do check it out, download it, and tell me what you think (and if you really like it, show your friends as well)!

2010-11-06

FOLLOW-UP: General Disillusionment with Ubuntu

Last week, I commented on how many Linux users are turned off by Canonical's seemingly unilateral decisions with regard to the development Ubuntu, the latest (at that time) example of which has been the decision to ship the Unity DE as the default even in the desktop edition, even though it's clear that even the standard netbook version of Unity needs a lot of work. Well, a lot of news outlets have reported that Canonical is going even further with this and that it wants to completely ditch the X/11 Windowing System.
Wow. That's a pretty bold move. Then again, it really does explain the decision to ship Unity, as Canonical probably wants to use that as a testbed for a totally new desktop environment built on the relatively new Wayland system.
So what do I think about this? Well, now I don't oppose the move to Unity as much because now I know it's just part of a bigger plan. That said, I'm not an expert by any means on windowing systems or X/11, but I'm inclined to believe the numerous statements that the reason for this switch is because X/11, dating from the 1980s, isn't getting any more streamlined and it's just getting more bloated with newer versions of desktop environments. Given that, I totally understand and do agree with the switch to Wayland, especially if it is going to be a long-term shift with support for legacy X/11 applications for a while as well. At the same time, I hope that Canonical really means it when they say that the transition to Wayland will be a much longer-term process.
Given all this, I wonder what will happen to Linux Mint and other derivatives of Ubuntu after this. In fact, now that we know that Canonical's future plan is to ship Unity or an evolution of it based on Wayland as the default environment in Ubuntu, what will happen to the official derivatives, like Kubuntu and Xubuntu? Will Canonical actually put effort into helping migrate KDE and Xfce onto Wayland from X/11, or will they just be left out to rot? I'm anxious to see what comes of all this in the coming years.
(UPDATE: The lead developer of Linux Mint has said that Linux Mint will neither adopt Unity nor Wayland in the foreseeable future, though it will remain compatible with Ubuntu. That said, it is also not likely to adopt GNOME Shell; therefore, it will remain essentially in its current state.)

2010-11-05

This Blog's Template

An anonymous reader had asked for the template used in this blog. First I'm going to list out the basics from Template Designer. (All colors are given using their 6-digit hexadecimal code.) Follow the jump to see the full template.
The base template used is the "Simple" Blogger template (provided by Blogger). There is no background image.
The body layout has a main area and a sidebar split into two smaller sidebars a bit down the page. The blog is 1000 pixels wide, and the right sidebar is 320 pixels wide.
The font used throughout the blog is Droid Sans, which can be added to a blog through Google's Font API. The size is 14 point, and the color is 333333.
The outer background color is 222222, while the main background is FFF5E5. All link colors (link, visited, and outer) are 66B5FF, as are the blog title and description colors. The blog title uses the Droid Sans font at 55 point.
The tabs also use the Droid Sans font at 14 point, and the selected and unselected colors are both 333333. The selected tab background color is EEEEEE, while the unselected tab background color is FFF5E5.
The post title size is 25 point. (The font is still Droid Sans.)
The date header color is 999999, while its background is transparent.
The post footer has text color 333333, while its background and shadow colors are both FFF5E5.
The gadget font is Droid Sans at 15 point. The title color is 333333, while the alternate color is 999999.
The image background and border colors are both FFF5E5, while the caption text color is 333333.
The separator line and tabs border colors are both FFF5E5.
I have not added any custom CSS to override styles settings.

2010-11-04

The Destruction of the Parody

For the record, I'm not saying that parodies themselves are declining in quality — far from it. If anything, they've just been getting better and better. No, what I mean is that advertising agencies and record labels are trying to put an end to parodies by claiming that obvious parodies (like the parody of a Lady Gaga song and the parody of a lobbying group's political ad, both covered on TechDirt here and here) don't qualify as parodies because they use the original soundtrack/video footage, meaning that they violate the restrictions on derivative works.
I think it's ridiculous that these companies are claiming that these parodies aren't actually parodies out of a misplaced fear that the original won't get views/sales. I guess that's OK for the ad company, considering that a parody video with the exact opposite message probably won't push people towards seeing the original ad, but in the case of songs, that is exactly what happens. Just look at Weird Al: often, his parody of another somewhat less-well known artist propels that artist to stardom. Plus, artists parodied by Weird Al consider it a badge of honor; for example, rapper Chamillionaire once said that his favorite song (as listed on his MySpace page) above his own song "Ridin'" was Weird Al's parody of it ("White and Nerdy"). I understand how poorly-done parodies can turn some people off from hearing the original version of a song, but as far as I know, the person who did the parody of a Lady Gaga song (among others) did these parodies quite well, so I can only imagine that many viewers who wouldn't have considered purchasing Lady Gaga's music started to do so after watching the parody.
So, media industries, why are you shooting yourselves in the foot by trying to stop parodies? The art of the parody is older than the music industry itself, so it's not even like these industries are resisting some sort of "scary new change".

2010-11-03

Why Safe Browsing Habits Don't Guarantee Anything

I see on sites like MakeTechEasier, Dedoimedo, and others that promote Linux articles that say that Linux shouldn't necessarily be promoted for any inherent security advantage over Microsoft Windows because browsing safely can prevent any problems from appearing. This also means that there's no need for antivirus software on Microsoft Windows because safe browsing habits alone will prevent viruses and other malware from appearing. I have two issues with this.
For one, on Linux, while it's common sense to exercise safe browsing habits anyway (i.e. not going to sites that scream "I WILL INFECT YOUR SOFTWARE"), it's not necessary to do so, because malware written for Microsoft Windows won't work on Linux, and in any case, the malware won't have administrative privileges to run (unless the user expressly allows such privileges, which can happen especially if it isn't immediately clear that the malware is malware (so the user thinks it's a harmless program)). Of course, there is a new bug out there that can automatically obtain superuser privileges in many Linux distributions, but that's a different story entirely.
The other problem I have with this is that it happened to me yesterday. I was in the library yesterday on a networked Microsoft Windows XP computer checking my email and reading the news when I suddenly saw a program called "ThinkPoint" hijack my desktop session, telling me that my computer has viruses that I need to remove (but to remove them, I supposedly need to pay a monthly fee). Obviously, "ThinkPoint" itself is a piece of malware. These news sites work perfectly fine on Linux and have worked well on Microsoft Windows (until now). I had to call our school's tech support, and (shockingly) they were very helpful, pleasant, and quick to respond to my issue. In fact, I am typing this post from the same computer now. I want to thank IS&T for being so great about this, but I also want to say that practicing safe browsing doesn't guarantee full safety from malware — antimalware software is still necessary on Microsoft Windows. So please, Dedoimedo (and other sites): even if you've never had an issue and you've always practiced safe browsing, that may not work out for everyone else, so stop acting like it will.

2010-11-02

How-To: Remaster Debian 6 "Squeeze"

There are a couple of qualifications to "Debian". In fact, this isn't really a general guide for Debian itself, but it's more for Linux Mint "Debian". In any case, because Linux Mint "Debian" is pointed towards the Testing repositories by default, for standard Debian, the procedure will still be similar anyway.
I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that the latest versions of Fresh OS are up on my SourceForge site. Yay! These are the download links (for Traditional, Elementary, and Light), and I am also going to link to the project wiki as well. I'm still working on the wiki, so please be patient. In any case, I strongly recommend that you try it out (and if you're especially bold, install it (though be warned that the installer is the Remastersys installer which isn't very consistent), and please let me know what you think either in this blog's comments or in a review on the project's SourceForge page. Thanks!