A Quick Update on the Respins

This is going to be a quick post. I've made a couple changes to UberBang, such as installing the Murrine theme engine to make the #! theme look right and making VolumeIcon and NM-applet start on startup. I've combined all these and released version 10.04.1 of UberBang, and it can be downloaded here in the same SourceForge project page.
Also, I am working on a new release of Fresh OS ("Elementary"). I will likely be dropping the "Traditional" version for this release because the newest build of Linux Mint "Debian" seems to fill that void adequately now (as it now has all the new features of version 10 "Julia"). I'm not entirely sure about "Light" though.
Finally, I may rerelease Oxidized Trinity 6 "Squeeze" with the Debian Live Installer packages included as well because the Remastersys Debian Installer can be unreliable.
That's all folks. I'm looking forward to a bright, fun, and productive 2011!


Review: Chakra 0.3.0 "Ashoc" (on FreeTechie)

Yay! I've scored my first guest post!
I did a review of Chakra 0.3.0 "Ashoc" for FreeTechie, and website administrator Ben Kevan has been kind enough to post it there. Here's a short excerpt from it:
Many of my regular readers have heard a couple times before that Chakra is an Arch-based KDE distribution. However, since its alpha releases, it has diverged enough from Arch and KDEmod to become to Arch what Ubuntu has become to Debian: while they share package types and many upstream repositories, there will be quite a few incompatibilities. So while they are fundamentally tied together, they are at the same time now essentially separate projects. Though Chakra and KDEmod made each other more popular within the Arch community, now Chakra is splitting from the KDEmod project and creating its own Arch-based implementation of KDE. [...]
Please read the rest of the review here and please support Ben Kevan and FreeTechie by reading and commenting on the site's articles. There are some really good tutorials and reviews there as well.


Symbicort: Shooting Itself in the Foot (or Lung)

Since I've gotten back home from college, I've been able to watch a good deal more TV, which means I also get to see (and make fun of) the advertisements that I've missed out on for the last few months. One of these ads is for Symbicort, an anti-asthma medication, and it takes my interest both because I suffer from asthma (but it only happens when I get a cold or when my seasonal allergies act up) and because the ad seems to shoot itself in the foot.
Here's what I mean: it's supposed to treat and control asthma in sufferers. Yet, asthmatics whose asthma is reasonably well-controlled by other medications shouldn't take Symbicort, and it may cause asthma-related death in patients.
So who exactly should take it then? It seems like Symbicort is shooting itself in the foot (or lung). Though it is now common to see long and frightening lists of side-effects accompanying ads for medicines, this is one of the few medicines that I've seen that may cause even more issues relating to the problem it is trying to treat. Isn't it weird?


Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon

Two days ago, I watched How To Train Your Dragon with my family. We had rented it from a RedBox for a gathering at our house, but no one at the gathering watched it, so we decided to watch it before returning it that night.
It's a great movie, and I would even say it was better than Toy Story 3 (which I reviewed just over a week ago). Unlike that movie, this one didn't have any gimmicky political lines or plot. It was a fun, lighthearted movie that also had a surprisingly complex plot (for a children's movie), as there were at least 2 different subplots going on at one time (for example, the continuous switching among the main character's dragon training classes, his time spent with the dragon he caught, and his father's expeditions that aim to find the dragons' lair). There were quite a few funny lines that didn't also try overly hard to appease the adults in the audience, which I appreciated. In all, I think it's a great movie for kids and their families, though I missed the extra splashy 3D experience because I watched it at home (and no, I don't have a TV capable of producing a 3D experience).


Apologies about the Slackware Review

A couple days ago, I reviewed Slackware 13.1. I wanted to see if I could use it post-installation, though from what I had read from commenters and writers on various blogs, it would be tough. At the end, it did prove to be as tough (and for me, fruitless) as I thought it would be. Though I did get to resolve a network connection issue, there wasn't really a whole lot interesting for me to see (other than a multitude of WMs in essentially vanilla form). Anyway, I wrote and published the review on this blog and it ended up in Linux Today and TuxMachines; owing to that, it got a lot of traffic and comments, most of which panned the lack of substance in the review.
It seems like most people who happened upon the review expected something substantive from a Slackware guru. Quite the opposite: I'm essentially a newbie who simply enjoys trying out different distributions from time to time. For letting down these readers (which is also a function of a lack of context, because though I make it clear on this blog that I am a newbie, that doesn't make it to Linux Today or TuxMachines), I am sorry.
Another mistake I made was expecting too much from Slackware. Usually, when I test distributions, I either expect a lot of things or nothing. For example, I would expect a lot of things out-of-the-box from a standard GNOME Ubuntu installation. I would not expect anything from Arch or Debian Standard. My mistake was associating Slackware included many WMs (especially KDE) out-of-the-box with many other niceties, like automatically configuring my network connection. I really should have included it in the group of distributions from which I expect nothing nice out-of-the-box. In addition, to make up for that, I probably should have read a good bit more about setting up Slackware post-installation. For these things, I am sorry.
However, there were quite a few comments that rhetorically asked why I chose to test Slackware if I knew that it wouldn't turn out so well. Well, the answer to that is that sometimes my expectations are defied (either way). In any case, I enjoy testing such expectations. In this case, my expectations (of a tough experience) were upheld. So please do tell me, is there anything wrong with that? It's either that, or I have seen the ugly side of the Linux community in the comments — the side that does not believe in helping out new users and only cares about those who already use Linux at the level of a trained professional. Maybe I've just been sheltered by the cordiality present in the Ubuntu and Linux Mint communities. Maybe it's just a matter of letting go of my innocence. But seriously, what's so horrible about having some expectations about Slackware, trying it out, and then writing about the experience?
In conclusion, I will say that this was probably a low point for this blog. Do not despair, as I have (better) reviews coming up in the coming days and weeks. I have learned my lesson with regard to Slackware, and you can be sure that I'll try not to make these mistakes again (especially if I get around to trying Arch).


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 December 19

Unfortunately, there were no comments on articles from the previous week (2010 December 12), so there was no accompanying "Featured Comments" article. That can be attributed to the fact that I wrote very few posts that week. Anyway, there were a whole bunch of comments this past week, so I can only post a couple.

Review: Slackware 13.1

There were many comments about this, so I'll post a couple, as well as my responses to them.
An anonymous reader writes, "You never even talked about this distro whatsoever. You just complained about what stuff you were used to that slackware didnt have. if every distro was the same then there would be one distro. Slackware is one of the most stable distros still surviving. You want a extremely stable distro here it is. While i agree that there is no dependacy checking, if you are going to slackware you are usually semi good at the command line and usually know how to install a program anyhow. so its "your" job to do it."
Reader Hannes Worst had this to say: "I think it's an ultimately unfair review. It only states the preferences of the writer and nothing about Slackware. It's like someone allergic to fruit writes a review about apples. From the first sentence on prejudice is shown. When you aren't capable of exploring and researching Slackware, don't write a review about it."
To the anonymous reader, I ask, if complaining about what isn't in the distribution isn't saying something about the distribution itself, then what is? Also, the last point leads me into my response to Hannes Worst.
I may not have made it clear in the review itself, but relatively speaking, I am a newbie to Linux. I like using Linux a lot, but I still have neither the skills nor the patience to work with something like Slackware for a long time just to get it working. I had a feeling that my experience wouldn't turn out so well for this very reason. But I wanted to test this feeling, so I did; I then wrote about the experience. Please tell me: what exactly is wrong with that? I figured that I made it abundantly clear that my issues with Slackware were never meant to reflect poorly on Slackware; quite the opposite: they reflect poorly on me as a Linux user.
I hope all that is cleared up. Next!

Familiarity Breeds Fondness, not Contempt

Reader T_Beermonster had this to say: "Probably the big one for me is the package manager. I've just got so used to APT over the years that I find other (probably equally good) systems don't feel right. Kind of like getting into someone else's car, the biting point is wrong and the seat is the wrong hight." I feel the same way as well, but I must ask, what about when familiar front-ends are applied to different back-ends? For example, PCLinuxOS uses RPMs in the back-end, but its GUI package manager is the familiar Synaptic. How would you feel about using that there? Or am I missing the point entirely?

Bad Experiences are Forever

Reader T_Beermonster wrote a long diatribe against Apple's Macs: "I have a visceral loathing of Apple Macs - not the hardware which in recent times has been quite attractive looking (if overpriced/underspecced). It's the OS."

FOLLOW-UP: Linux and Breakfast Cereals

Commenter twitter had this to say: "Diversity and choice are good, restrictions are bad. Despite the differences between distributions, they all share the same core of free software and all of it tailored to a wide variety of hardware architectures. That means that users get the software they want on the platform they want. Skype is difficult because it is not free software and the company has to do all the hard work of packaging things themselves. If you want Skype to work as well as Mozilla, ask Skype to liberate their code and rely on an honest service model that does not demand undue power over users."

Well, that's all for this week. I hope all the confusion surrounding my motivations regarding the Slackware review are cleared up, and I sincerely apologize for not delivering adequately to those who were expecting a more substantive level appropriate for an intermediate or advanced Linux user trying Slackware. As always, if you like the content, please continue commenting and subscribing. Finally, happy holidays!


NCAA: Bad for Future Business Leaders

This past week, a couple Ohio State University [American] football players have been suspended for half of next year's season and have been made to pay thousands of dollars for selling things like [parts of] their uniforms, their championship rings, and other awards and sports paraphernalia. News outlets reporting this story have frequently made reference to a similar incident a couple years ago, when Reggie Bush voluntarily forfeited his Heisman Trophy (though he was under pressure to do so at risk of it being forcibly revoked) for receiving gifts from other people while playing football for the University of Southern California.
In no other sports league are rules as draconian as in the NCAA. Conferences like the SEC already make billions of dollars every season, so a couple thousand is peanuts for them. So why are all these rules in place? "Amateurism."
These college players are enormously popular and are almost all going to school on scholarships. That said, if they are injured, the scholarships are often revoked; as they spend almost all of their time practicing or playing football, if they are injured, it's a long way towards graduation, and a decent job may not even be on the horizon. These players are doing what they can to build up some money in their bank account while they can. Really, they should own the uniforms and awards, and first sale will mean that the NCAA has no authority over what happens to these things once they are in players' hands.
These players are rightfully trying to make a business out of their playing. Yet, the NCAA isn't letting them (on the grounds of a ridiculously weak excuse). That's right: the NCAA is anti-business. (Either that, or the NCAA takes the meaning of a monopoly to a ridiculous extreme, not even letting their own players even slightly compete with their gravy train.)


FOLLOW-UP: Linux and Breakfast Cereals

I wrote a post a couple months ago regarding Mr. Graham Morrison's assertion that the overabundance of choice in the open-source software community is its failing and Ms. Caitlyn Martin's counter-assertion using the example of breakfast cereals. In it, I mostly agree with Ms. Martin's statements, though I do question the use of breakfast cereals as an analogy because that industry has not ever been so thoroughly monopolized like the PC OS industry.
One of Mr. Morrison's gripes was the confusion in package management, with so many different front- and back-ends. While I still believe that the multitude of front-ends can only be good for users (as anyway most distributions' preferences in that regard are pretty clear), after having talked to a friend in college who is extremely familiar with Red Hat and Fedora, I'm rethinking my stance on the multitude of back-ends.
DEBs are fairly standard (they're just glorified compressed files), so as long as all the required dependencies are present, a DEB from KNOPPIX should work on Linux Mint as well. For RPMs, the situation is a bit more complicated, because RPMs themselves are a good deal more complicated than DEBs. As it turns out, there's a good deal of variation even within the different implementations of RPMs. For example, RHEL (and CentOS) and Fedora use the original kind of RPMs. Mandriva and SUSE have modified the RPM format to fit their needs, as has Scientific Linux (otherwise based on RHEL). Thus, an RPM on Mandriva won't work on SUSE or Fedora; the differences can be so large that it would be like trying to install an alien file format (e.g. DEB).
So my question is, why have all these differences sprung up? For example, the Skype site shows different RPMs for Fedora and openSUSE. (Then again, it shows different DEBs for Debian and Ubuntu as well.) Why can't the maintainers of these distributions pare away the differences as much as possible to maintain inter-distribution compatibility? Wouldn't this just make everyone's life easier?


Bad Experiences are Forever

This is a sort of follow-up and is opposite to the previous post. There are a couple things that I had bad experiences with that I should probably try out again; these things have probably left worse impressions on me emotionally than rationally.
First is Toyota. Toyota has had a rough couple years, starting with issues of premature rusting in its trucks' frames and leading up to the "unintended acceleration" fiasco. Through it all, it's managed to become #1 in sales, but this too has come at the cost of its quality; now, the parts it uses especially in the interiors of its cars are flimsier and aren't assembled with the same attention to detail as before. My family owned a 1988 Toyota Corolla, and it ran beautifully until 2004; it was solidly built, and the attention to detail was striking. Now, no more. That said, the unintended acceleration fiasco (which pushed my skepticism of Toyota over the edge) is finished and its new cars are pretty solidly built and competitive, so I really shouldn't instinctively turn me away from all Toyota products (though I'd still rather wait a few years before recommending their products to anyone again).
Next, Fedora. I tried the Fedora 11 "Leonidas" GNOME live CD about a year ago, and I loved it. I really liked the fact that it, unlike Linux Mint 7 "Gloria", detected all of my hardware out-of-the-box (including my graphics card and monitor at its native 2048 by 1536 resolution). So I decided to install it. That was a terrible idea: not only did it fail to install properly, it also managed to mess up my existing Linux Mint 7 partition at the same time. I tried again, and it still didn't work. I then decided to hold off until the next release. Version 12 "Constantine" was worse; no live CD or live USB I created (the usual way) would boot. That's when I gave up on Fedora. That said, just about a week ago, I and a friend of mine (who is a Red Hat/Fedora guru) installed Fedora 14 "Laughlin" GNOME on a mutual friend's laptop (which was suffering from a slow and malware-ridden installation of Microsoft Windows 7). The installation itself worked flawlessly, and aside from multimedia codecs (which was easily fixed through the handy program Autoten), everything worked out-of-the-box — Skype (i.e. webcam and mic), printing (and scanning), desktop effects, etc. Given this, I really shouldn't hesitate, yet I still do. Maybe it'll happen when Fedora does actually support NVidia's Optimus technology.
Finally come laptop touchpads. Wait, no — those are ergonomically inferior to external mice. Whoops! (Heh heh.)
So what are your thoughts on this? Do you also dislike things more emotionally than rationally? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Familiarity Breeds Fondness, not Contempt

The thought about the content of this post occurred to me yesterday when surfing the web as normal. (Interestingly enough, I forgot about it until this afternoon.) It started with Mozilla Firefox crashing. I feel like although with computer-related things I'm a bit more flexible and willing to change (compared to average users) when better software alternatives come around, with some things I just stick too much to what I know, often to my own detriment. Follow the jump to find out exactly what I mean.


Review: Slackware 13.1

KDE Main Screen
I never envisioned myself trying out any of the more advanced distributions like Slackware, Arch, or Gentoo, but having tried derivatives like GNU/Linux Utopia, Chakra, and Sabayon, I think I'm ready to try Slackware and Arch, and I am writing about the former today. Hopefully, the latter can also happen soon. (I'm still not going to try Gentoo.)
Note: this review will be heavy on images, so don't be surprised if the page takes a little time to load.
Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution, and it brings with it, alongside its famous rock-solid stability, a couple of quirks and anachronisms. For example, it is one of the few distributions that provides no form of dependency management; users need to install all dependent packages manually. Another example is how its ncurses-based installation interface dates back from the 1990s/early 2000s. Furthermore, it still uses the old Linux Loader (LILO) instead of GRUB; LILO is quite limited in terms of configuration and the number of operating systems and types of file systems it can handle, and making it play well with other non-Linux-based OSs (like Microsoft Windows) as far as I know is still a herculean task. Finally, unlike most distributions, Slackware provides no official route to installing GNOME, though it provides a plethora of other WM options alternative to KDE and Xfce.
With all these things in mind, follow the jump to see how my experience with the grandfather of distributions (well, not quite) turned out. I tested this in a VirtualBox environment with 1 GB of RAM and an available 10 GB virtual hard drive.
Ncurses Installer


Movie Review: Toy Story 3

This evening, as I am back home, I got to watch Toy Story 3 with my family. (On a side note, the DVD seemed pretty badly scratched as there were many parts that jumped and skipped around, but it was tolerable.)
I had heard from many of my friends over the summer that this movie is an exceptionally good movie, and to be honest, while I think it's a good, clean, family-friendly movie, I don't think it's anything to rave about. I found a lot of the political themes (e.g. "we are in control of our destiny") a bit off-putting for a kids' movie (though Barbie delivering the "power of the government derives from the consent of the governed" line was priceless), though I guess it's more to please the parents who are also probably watching. Other than that, aside from a few other funny moments (like Mr. Potato Head replacing his body with a tortilla), it wasn't anything truly special. All in all, I'm not really sure what all the hype was about (other than Andy going to college, and even then, I found his actions at the end when playing with the little girl and his old toys simultaneously funny and disturbing).


Done with 1st Semester!

Yay! I'm done with my first semester here at MIT! Overall, final exams worked out pretty well.
I'm going back home either tomorrow or the day after that. When I do, I'll be able to spend more time with loved ones and more time relaxing (and writing here).
For those people in school/college, how did your term go?


An Update on this Blog and the Respins

Last week, I released an Openbox respin of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" called UberBang 10.04. Shortly afterwards, I emailed CrunchBang creator Philip Newborough with questions about the theming issues and related things. He very kindly answered my questions, so I've incorporated those changes (and a few others) and reuploaded the ISO file (which is slightly bigger now but is still under 600 MB). The download link is unchanged. Also, when I get the time, I'll make a wiki for UberBang like I did for the other respins.
Before that, I also released Oxidized Trinity 6 "Squeeze", a respin of Debian 6 "Squeeze" with Trinity 3.5.12 themed to look like KDE 4.1(ish). The download link is still here. Also, when I get the time, I'll update the wiki with information about this Debian-based Oxidized Trinity. (As an aside, interestingly enough, the top downloaders of Oxidized Trinity, as opposed to my other respins, use Microsoft Windows. Maybe that says something about KDE's ability to attract Microsoft Windows users. Then again, it's entirely possible that these are Linux users who just so happen to be downloading the ISO in Microsoft Windows. There's no way to know for sure.)
I haven't released a new version of Fresh OS in a while, and that's because of upgrade issues I've been having with those virtual machines. This stems from a couple of issues with upstream Linux Mint packages. Anyway, I'm waiting for the next snapshot to be released; that snapshot is supposed to have all the new features and themes of Linux Mint 10 "Julia", which may render Fresh OS "Traditional" unnecessary.
Finally, you may notice that the look of this blog has changed again. I really liked the old look, but the gadgets were starting to look weird in an old theme, so I decided to upgrade to a newer template and theme that. It didn't look quite the same, so I decided to try again. I think I've finally found something that imitates the parent theme (which, I found out after a lot of searching, is called "Subtle Beauty") well enough that I can stick with this. I hope you all like it too!


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 December 5

There was only one post that garnered comments, so I will be reposting all those comments.

Fedora 15: A Potential Savior?

Reader yochalgal had this to say about it: "The reason fedora 15 will have that ability is because they are switching from X to wayland as a display server. Ubuntu (what mint is based off of) is also switching. So you will have that ability." Of course, the Linux Mint developers have said that they won't be switching to Wayland exactly when Ubuntu does.
An anonymous commenter added, "The Nvidia-Intel video problem stems from the newer Optimus line of Nvidia cards. Nvidia has said they have "no plans" of supporting the switching technology under Linux. That means that in Linux, the Optimus cards will be locked into the Intel graphics performance, while keeping the Nvidia card on as well. Poor performance and poor battery life. Worst of both worlds. Hopefully Wayland will be able to work around this issue."

Thanks to all those who commented this week. Once again, if you like the material, please continue subscribing and commenting! (Also, I have final exams this week, so I won't be posting stuff as frequently.)


Introducing UberBang 10.04

Main Screen + Openbox menu
If you've been keeping up with this blog, you'll know that CrunchBang ("#!"), an Openbox distribution that was previously based on Ubuntu, has switched to a Debian base (and has added Xfce to the mix as well). While I agree with many of the developers' reasons for switching bases, I feel like now there's a void in the realm of Ubuntu derivatives using Openbox. No, Lubuntu doesn't count, because it uses LXDE, which is a little more fully featured and a bit different anyway (though it does use Openbox as its WM). No, I needed something a bit more like the lovely #! 9.04.01.
SLiM Login Screen
Enter UberBang. It's a spin that I created of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" Minimal. This means that creating this distribution was much like creating Oxidized Trinity 6 "Squeeze" from a minimal Debian 6 "Squeeze" installation; post-installation, I needed to fetch all the requisite packages myself (though I will say that here, thankfully, sudo was properly configured out-of-the-box post-installation). For example, in #! 9.04.01, the scrot command line tool is used to take screenshots. As it is a pretty basic command line tool, I expected it to be installed out-of-the-box; I was wrong.
There were a couple things that I tried to do in UberBang 10.04 to make it feel more like the #! 9.04.01 I knew and loved (as opposed to the #! 10 "Statler" that I didn't like quite as much). For one, I installed Pidgin, Skype, PCManFM, and Cheese Webcam Booth, none of which are present in #! 10 "Statler". I also installed programs like VLC, PiTiVi Video Editor, Claws Mail, Liferea Feed Reader, and File Roller. Next, I installed all of the wallpapers and codecs used in 9.04.01. Finally, I tried to port the #! 9.04.01 Openbox themes and icons (as well as the tint2 configuration) over to UberBang 10.04. While this works overall, this also leads me into the (unfortunately rather long) list of issues to watch out for. Follow the jump to read more about this.


Fedora 15: A Potential Savior?

One of my friends was showing me today a Gource-created video of his semester's work that he made on his Fedora 14 "Laughlin" laptop. It looks really nice, but even though it has a quad-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a very nice AMD ATI dedicated graphics card (I don't know exactly what model/specs), it still took a couple hours to do (i.e. far longer than it should have).
I told him that I'd love to be able to do a similar thing on my laptop, but given that it has even lower specs than his, it would take even longer. This is also because Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" doesn't properly recognize my NVidia graphics card, so I can only use the Intel integrated card which works fine for me now but would choke under such processor-intensive activities. He then told me that Fedora 15 will have native support for seamless switching of graphics card drivers (especially these NVidia-Intel setups).
Linux Mint, I've loved using you for the last year and a half, but I'm definitely going to be looking into this more closely, because I really do want to use my laptop to its full potential in Linux. If Fedora 15 is relatively stable, I'll probably be using it until Linux Mint gains similar support (and if it comes in the rolling "Debian" branch, I'll just use that then). In any case, I'm excited!


Wikileaks: American Entertainment Better than the TSA

There's a new article (Brett Michael Dykes, The Lookout) about a leaked document posted on Wikileaks reporting that American TV shows and movies have been very effective at painting a positive portrait of the US in the eyes of Saudis (ever since American channels there have started showing actual American TV and movies and not just US-sanctioned propaganda). Of all the quotes in the article, this one stood out the most:
[...] even in the remote, highly conservative regions of Saudi Arabia where anti-Western thought typically proliferates. The cable quotes him saying that out in the Saudi hinterlands, "you no longer see Bedouins, but kids in western dress." [...]
I feel like this is along the lines of winning the people's "hearts and minds". The reason why this works is because as opposed to state-sponsored propaganda (which is pretty obvious when shown), this more subtly shows what's so great about the US.
Finally, I think this report is a great send-up of all the politicians who are equating Wikileaks with terrorism. Quite the contrary: while a lot of what it shows is what we've done wrong (and of course these politicians will hypocritically call for press freedom in other countries yet repress it here), it also shows a lot of what we've done right. Why not publicize that more? (I think it's because people will start demanding the incriminating information as well; really, politicians just call for press freedom when it suits them. So, what else do you have to hide, Senator Lieberman? After all, you do want to criminally prosecute them, don't you?)
Oh, and the title? It just goes to show that this entertainment is far better at converting potential terrorists into people positively curious about America than the TSA is at stopping terrorism.


Lage Raho Wikileaks!

In the last couple days, there have probably been more news stories about the leaked government documents put on Wikileaks than there are actual leaked documents on Wikileaks. TechDirt has a funny (sadly, it's true) article about how the State Department supposedly wants the leaked documents back. Evidently, it somehow thinks that digital goods are simply analogue goods on computers that can be "reclaimed". Unfortunately, it doesn't realize that online, once it's out there, it can never be put back; this is also true of businesses and trade secrets, and businesses know this, so I'm not sure why the Department of State has become the Department of State of Denial.
To show them just how ridiculous and tone-deaf their demands are, I propose a nonviolent protest along the lines of the movie Lage Raho Munna Bhai (which I watched over the summer and whose plot synopsis, especially the part about sending roses, you can read in Wikipedia here). A commenter on TechDirt suggested, just for fun, compressing the documents into a ZIP file and emailing the compressed file to a State Department email address (which, obviously, cannot and does not do what the State Department wants done). This seems a little boring, so I'd like to take this a step further.
If you want to do this through email, do the ZIP file idea, but change the permissions on all the files, while adding an additional fake "document" that is actually a Rickroll video. If you are really savvy (and if this is possible), try to rig the properties of the ZIP file so that when opened, the ZIP file automatically opens the Rickroll video (and the other documents are inaccessible).
If you, like me, want to do this in the style of the movie, print out some of the leaked documents and put them in an envelope or box. Include in this box a "Get Well Soon" card (with a polite message about, as Munna Bhai says, their "disease of dishonesty") and a bouquet of flowers.
This is just nonviolent protest against stupidity in the State Department, and as far as I know, this isn't breaking any laws. (Please don't be stupid and include viruses in the emails. That would be illegal.) How does it all sound?


Movie Review: Die Another Day

Last night, I watched the movie Die Another Day with my family. Interestingly enough, we tried watching it on an older DVD player hooked up to the TV; we were able to hear the background music but not the foreground dialogue. When I was told that this happened with other movies as well, I concluded that the DVD player was dying, so we watched it on a laptop.
It was an entertaining, typical James Bond movie but it wasn't anything special. Having watched the two newest James Bond movies and seeing how awesomely cold and efficient Daniel Craig's James Bond is in those movies (without all the techno-wizardry), I can't help but think that all the gadgets in this movie is covering up for some merely OK acting on Pierce Brosnan's part.

Featured Comments: Week of 2010 November 28

There were two posts that garnered comments this week, so I'll try to repost most of the comments.

Peter Pan Buses: Good for People who Supposedly "Can't Grow Up"

Reader Jen had this to say: "Totally agree that this country needs high-speed rail! (And no, Amtrak's Acela doesn't count...) Was there wifi on your Peter Pan bus?" (Yes, there was.)

In Praise of the Arch Wiki

A multitude of anonymous readers left comments. One comment that summed up the sentiments in the other comments as well reads, "The Arch Wiki is why I switched to Archlinux, well that and their forum. I was originally an Ubuntu user but whenever I had an issue hardware related and googled for a solution, 9 times out of 10 there was a link to the Arch Wiki and I was able to fix the issue using that link or at the very least get pointed in the right direction. So I figured if there documentation is this good why not actually try using Archlinux, well one year latter I'm still an Arch user and couldn't be happier. The rolling release model is also a pretty good reason to switch. :)"
Reader pablo countered the thoughts about switching to Arch to learn Linux better: "It should be added that for a intermediate experienced linux user installing Arch can be something to shy away for. Not necessary and if you want to enjoy Arch out of the box I recommend Archbang that does a lot of configuring for you, and you can still learn from your new installed system when using it."

Thanks to all those who commented on this week's posts. Please understand that I will be quite busy for the next two weeks, so there won't be a whole lot of new material in this space. In any case, if you like the material, please continue to subscribe and leave comments!


Introducing Oxidized Trinity 6 "Squeeze"

This is something that I have wanted to do for the last week and a half or so, but I haven't been able to do it because I've been really busy.
I said in my review of Debian 6 "Squeeze" Standard that I wanted to customize that installation with Trinity 3.5.12. Well, now it has finally happened: please welcome the newest member of the Oxidized Trinity family, Oxidized Trinity 6 "Squeeze"!
There are a couple differences between this and the original (Kubuntu-based) Oxidized Trinity 10.04, the most significant being that the only way to install Oxidized Trinity 6 is to use the Remastersys installer, and that's not guaranteed to work. Also, Trinity 3.5.12 packs a whole lot more stuff for Debian than for Ubuntu; I didn't even want half the stuff included, but I was too lazy to remove all of it. (This is also why Synaptic Package Manager isn't included (it would consume even more space).) Thankfully, despite that, the Oxidized Trinity 6 ISO file is actually smaller than the Oxidized Trinity 10.04 ISO file. I guess that goes to show just how lightweight and versatile Debian really is. Finally, on that note, I have uploaded this to the Oxidized Trinity SourceForge page; also, here is the direct download link. Please do try this out and let me know what I can improve. Thanks! (Also, stay tuned for a brand-new respin!)


In Praise of the Arch Wiki

I'm not an Arch user. In fact, I've never used Arch before (save for two reviews of Chakra GNU/Linux, an Arch-based KDE distribution made to make Arch easier). So why am I talking about the Arch Wiki?
Well, I'm looking into doing a couple more respins, and the Arch Wiki has been absolutely indispensable for configuration tips. As Arch Linux is built from the ground up, there needs to be thorough and up-to-date documentation about how exactly to install and configure various applications and services, and the Arch Wiki does not fail. Everything is laid out in a way that I can understand, and the presumed level of prior knowledge is quite low, which is nice. Plus, because Arch is meant to be fully customizable, there are many alternative tools discussed as well, even if they aren't as frequently used.
So thank you Arch Wiki for helping me do these respins! (Also, stay tuned for posts about these new respins!)


It Really is Security Theater

I was going to write about the failed Oregon bombing plot and how the TSA would be powerless to stop it with its scanners and pat-downs for it was a domestic plot that was to use cars and such. Then, I saw this gem of an article (Mike Masnick, TechDirt) saying that the FBI helped the would-be bomber throughout the process and then arrested him just to bolster its own reputation. It links to many different other articles (which I will leave you to read on your own) that talk about this as well as similar fabricated plots.
There really isn't a whole lot to say here, except "what?" This really does give a whole new meaning to "security theater" — now complete with actors and a set!


Peter Pan Buses: Good for People who Supposedly "Can't Grow Up"

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!


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).


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!


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.)


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?


Apologies about VirtualBox Testing

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
For add user: type en in the bash :adduser
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!


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.)


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).


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?


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!


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"?


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.


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.


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)!


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.)


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.
Follow the jump to see the full template.


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".


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.


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!
So this post is just going to be about how I did it. Follow the jump to read more (and to see screenshots of the finished product).


Seriously? Vegan Chicken Wings?

I remember in elementary school I got a lot of questions from people (when I told them that I am vegetarian) how I could possibly survive without meat. Although those questions have since subsided, I now wonder whether some people can survive without meat after becoming vegetarian. (Please understand that this is not meant to evangelize about any benefits vegetarianism has over omnivorous eating [redundant?]. If you eat meat, I have no problem with it; I have my own reasons for remaining a vegetarian.)
Case in point: our dining hall's vegetarian meal tonight was vegan chicken wings. (I'll just say that I didn't have it.) This isn't the first time that the dining hall has served a soy-based meat substitute for the vegetarian meal, and I really don't like eating these sorts of vegan meat substitutes because they're too squishy and quite bland (among other issues).
So really? Vegan chicken wings? This dining hall has served many different foreign vegetarian dishes (many of them variants on traditional Mexican and Italian dishes). And to answer the question that people asked in elementary school, I can survive without meat because there are thousands of Indian dishes that use no meat at all. So if you can do Mexican and Italian vegetarian food, why not some Indian food next time? Why is it necessary to have meat substitutes? After all, not all vegetarians are former meat-eaters.


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 October 24

Before I get to the comments themselves, I want to ask, what do you all think of the new blog look and feel? I had to redesign it to get all the gadgets to look right. Let me know in the comments of this article. Anyway, let's get back to the comments.

Open Question: Install Linux without Live Media?

This post was about installing Linux on a friend's laptop which can't boot from a USB stick and whose DVD drive is broken.
Reader Azmo suggested, "I have had really good experiences with gPXE and Fedora (boot.fedoraproject.org) lately. Just a thought if that laptop chokes on 'big' USB iso things, but might be able to work with the small bfo image."
Commenter T Beermonster had quite a few suggestions, but one which I may try out is this one: "You could use a virtual machine to get things set up as you like and then dd the virtual HDD to the laptop HDD. It's easier if you don't use a dynamic virtual disk just a fixed size one that is the same size as or smaller than the eventual target HDD (remember dd will copy everything, even empty space, so the smaller the VHD the quicker the copy - you can always grow to fill unused space on the real HDD later)."

General Disillusionment with Ubuntu

Reader Arup is perfectly fine with the current state of affairs, and I respect that: "No heavy handedness here, they are just establishing a universal and global brand name for a linux based distro which was the need for a long time."
Commenter adamwill had this to say about the review process: " It kind of depends what's meant by 'review'. Most distros have some kind of 'review' process for software being added to the distribution, but it's the details that are important: what exactly is the review process meant to achieve, how is it implemented, who is in charge of it, how open is it, and so on."

Apple's Restricted APT

Reader Van' sums up the general consensus online with this: "NEWSFLASH: Bears [excrete] in woods."

Thanks to everyone who posted comments on this week's posts, and as always, please keep them coming. Also, as always, if you like the content, please subscribe!


NFL Super Bowl XLV Broadcasting

I'm going home for winter break, but I need to be back in college by the end of January. I was thinking of the things immediately afterwards at home that I would miss, and I remembered that one of those things would be watching the Super Bowl with my family and friends at home. (Super Bowl XLV airs on 2011 February 6.) Now, of course, I'll be watching it with my friends here, so that makes up for it. Then, as I thought about it more, I wondered if I would need to buy tickets to attend a showing in my dormitory hall, as it would be considered a "public performance". I also figured that if there are more than 10 or so people watching, whoever is showing it would have to buy a license from the NFL to show the game.
Why is this? Does the NFL not want us to watch at all? Does it not make enough money already from ticket sales and advertising (especially the latter, as advertising prices skyrocket for the Super Bowl)? More importantly, isn't this kind of like déjà vu? About 50 years ago, live broadcasting of sports events became a reality, so the major US sports leagues (especially the MLB, as far as I know) fought hard against live sports broadcasts, arguing that it would cause ticket sales to plummet as people would just choose to watch it on their TV sets for free. In fact, the opposite happened, as ticket sales shot up because more people were being exposed to and became interested in following these sports once they starting being broadcast on TV. Now, I don't think this sort of thing can still happen, because even with the Internet, exposure to sports has pretty much maxed out, and there won't be too many new converts. That said, given that the NFL is making so much money already from ticket sales and advertising, why are they putting these kinds of restrictions on broadcasts? Don't they understand that to get even more ticket sales they should be reaching out (not blocking out) to their customers?


Class Discussion on IP

Yesterday in my web design, the lecturer was a guest speaker. This particular guest speaker is my college's IP attorney, and as we are designing websites, our professor feels that we should be suitably aware of the issues surrounding IP so as to not get sued. At first, I was highly skeptical as a similar talk my high school librarian gave last year was almost totally propaganda in favor of IP-protection and the wonders it does for creative works. That said, I listened to the whole talk, and I'm glad that the attorney delivered the facts straight without injecting too much of his own opinion into the discussion, and he made it clear that we should be aware of IP laws mainly for our own defense (and not necessarily to clog the system with more IP). Whenever he did (occasionally) inject his own opinion into the discussion, he made it fairly clear that he thinks that the current state of IP is a mess and that the current copyright term is way too long for its own good. All I want to say is that I'm glad there's at least one IP lawyer out there who understands that the status quo is bad without being blinded by the powerful interests in the field of IP.
On a totally unrelated note, I have come to the realization that the reason why some widgets on this blog don't look right is because I am using these new widgets on a very old template. I can't even take advantage of the new Blogger Template Designer to tweak it. For this reason, there is going to be an overhaul in the way this blog looks; though I will try to preserve the current look and feel, it will be a more current template so that I can use widgets without having to deal with things like overlapping text. I hope to finish this by the weekend.


Microsoft's Latest Scare Tactics as of 2010 October 28

For the last few years, Microsoft has been making vague threats to sue vendors of Linux-based products for infringing on Microsoft's patents. When Microsoft is asked to elaborate on what exactly is being infringed, it suffers a convenient case of amnesia. In any case, while it has bullied a few companies (first Novell over SUSE, now companies like HTC over Android) into paying excessive royalty fees for no reason, it has never made good on its threats to sue anyone, probably because it would be clear as day just how ridiculous Microsoft's infringement claims really are.
It seems like now, as this article (Adam Hwang, Digitimes) points out, Microsoft could possibly make good on this, although it seems like it's just bullying companies into paying royalty fees as opposed to outright suing. It's charging AsusTEK and Acer royalty fees for the very vague "email, multimedia, and other" functions just to make sure they don't sell netbooks or tablets with Android or Chrome OS on them. It would be a shame if these companies submitted to Microsoft's demand, but it'll probably happen considering that the same thing happened to Novell and HTC; then again, consumers are now more aware than ever of alternatives to Microsoft Windows, so I think they may actually seek out and demand Android and Chrome OS devices anyway. Let's see how this turns out.


Open Question: Install Linux without Live Media?

I wrote a couple posts back that one of my motivations for completing Fresh OS (which is very close to completion but won't be complete until the weekend probably due to my schoolwork) is so that I can install it on a friend's laptop as that friend expressed an interest in running Linux. Well, that thought is right now at the back of my mind. The DVD drive doesn't work (it's partially broken, actually), and she has told me already that live USBs don't work (as she has tried before). I tried using Wubi, but unfortunately some issues with Microsoft Windows XP regarding executables on that computer won't allow Wubi to run. So I phrase this as an open question: is there any way for me to easily install Linux on this laptop (1.5 GHz single-core processor, 512 MB of RAM) without any live media? I've seen some online solutions about downloading and extracting ISOs, but that's a little too time-consuming. Also, the reason why I'm not dead-set on this is because this is not the primary computer anyway (in fact, it almost never gets used except in emergency situations as the primary computer is now a MacBook). So, what do you say about this?


General Disillusionment with Ubuntu

There's always been murmurs of discontent in the Linux community with Canonical, the company that sponsors and manages Ubuntu. Before, I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about; it was the easy-to-use distribution and it seemed to work quite well. Having watched Ubuntu's development over the last year, I can now see why.
A large part of this is just that users are jealous that Ubuntu, and not their favorite distribution, is seeing so much success. I'm not going to go into this, because it'll likely degenerate into a flame-war.
However, the two more well-supported criticisms regard Canonical's heavy-handedness with regard to Ubuntu as well as its tendency to release new versions just to meet a release date even if the associated programs aren't exactly production-quality.
There are a couple examples of the first occur. Canonical wants to further develop the Ubuntu Software Center into a combination of APT and Apple's iOS App Store in terms of functionality. However, this combination may be going too far, as Canonical is also planning to review all application submissions similar to how Apple does this. That discomforts me as well as a lot of other users, and if this does become a reality, I'm glad to continue Linux Mint (and it may be all the more reason to switch to the Debian-based version, which is something I can say for most everything I will talk about in the rest of this post).
Canonical created a firestorm of controversy before the version 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx" release with its decision to move the window control buttons to the left of the titlebar, à la Mac OS X. The criticisms were one (or more) of the following: Ubuntu was becoming a clone of Mac OS X, the control placement was unintuitive, or there was no need to change something that worked (and still works). In one reply in a particular Ubuntu mailing list, Mark Shuttleworth basically dissed the whole community (which is something I covered in a much earlier post).
There are a couple examples of the second issue. In version 9.10 "Karmic Koala", Ubuntu released Empathy (though this could have been to spur further development and refinement) and XSplash, neither of which were production-ready at that time (and XSplash disappeared after version 9.10 anyway). The most recent example of this is Ubuntu's newly announced proposal to replace GNOME Shell/Metacity/Mutter with the Unity interface even on desktops. (Unity was released in version 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" as the new netbook interface, so I'm not really sure how it'll scale up as a DE for a full-blown desktop.) The most common criticisms of this is that Unity has only been included in one release so far, and that it is very slow, buggy, and rigid (as in not customizable especially when compared to standard GNOME). Yet, Canonical is so eager to push ahead with Unity that it wants to make it an environment for the common desktop as well.
I'm not going to say anything about Unity for myself because I haven't tried it (and it will likely not happen). What I will say is that it isn't surprising to me that more and more distributions today are switching from an Ubuntu base to a Debian base, because Debian is entirely community-driven and is usually more stable. That's why my Fresh OS respins are based off of Linux Mint "Debian", that's why #! moved to a Debian base, and that's why Manhattan OS (which was based on Ubuntu not too long ago) moved to a Debian testing base (along with rebranding itself to Jupiter OS). Folks, expect to see a lot more of these types of base shifts happening in the near future, as Ubuntu starts to really chart its own course.