Review: KDE 4.6

A couple days ago, KDE 4.6 was released for the world to enjoy. It boasts myriad bug fixes, new features for applications like Dolphin and Marble (among others), a revamped Activities feature, and better integration of GTK+ applications. I've come to enjoy testing new KDE 4 releases because it gets noticeably better with each release (or so I would hope), as opposed to GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, and other DEs which don't change much between "point" releases (i.e. X.Y ("X point Y")).
That said, it's not available for Linux Mint 9 "Isadora", and I don't plan on upgrading that until the next LTS release (Linux Mint 13 "M[...]a") unless some radical change (that I don't like) makes me switch distributions (but given the lead developer Clement Lefebvre's recent statements on the matter, that is highly unlikely). Right now, it's only (in terms of Ubuntu-based distributions) available in Ubuntu/Kubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat" and Linux Mint 10 "Julia" through a backport PPA. As I had a Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME live USB handy, I used that to do testing; I will say that this method may have been the cause of many of the problems that you will read about shortly. Follow the jump to see how it went.


Review: Sabayon 5.5 KDE

Main Screen
If you are a regular reader of this blog, Sabayon needs no introduction. Suffice it to say that version 5.5 has been released, and as has become tradition for me (so to speak), I am testing the KDE version of this new release.
It seems like there aren't really a whole lot of new heavily-advertised features in this release; it mostly consists of bugfixes. Let's see how true that turns out.
I tested this as a live USB made with UnetBootin. I did not test the installation.
Follow the jump to see how this version of Sabayon stacks up in terms of making Gentoo friendly (or, at least, friendlier) to newbies.

Featured Comments: Week of 2011 January 23

There was only one post this week that garnered comments, so I'll post all of those.

Preview: Bodhi Linux 0.1.4 Beta

An anonymous reader had this to say: "-v.nice review,prof P -that cluttered dock You mention, also come on other distros -it's easily sent to the bottom of the deep blue sea,
if you chose to do so & you end up with a non-cartoonish desktop -just right click/properties... cheers".
Bodhi Linux creator Jeff91 had this to say: "Just a comment about the bar at the bottom - the last screen in the setup wizard entitled "quick launch" lets you choose what applications to include on that bar at the bottom. To display all of them as you have in those screenshots means that you checked off all the items. Oh also - the Enlightenment screenshot module is in the Bodhi repo. sudo apt-get install screenshot Cheers, ~Jeff Hoogland".
Also, in related news, the Enlightenment libraries (though not the WM itself) have reached a stable release. Furthermore, Bodhi Linux itself has gone from beta status to having a release candidate (RC). Wow!

Thanks to all those who commented this week. Once again, as I am back in school now, I won't be able to post as frequently. In any case, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Second Semester Starting Soon

Well, I had a nice, long winter break by virtue of the fact that this time I chose to stay home during MIT's winter session. That's come to an end, and I'll be heading back tomorrow.
I'm glad that I've been able to write as much stuff here as I did over the last month and a half. Unfortunately, that's probably going to end for a while, as classes start next Tuesday (and this semester will be a little more stressful than the last due to the introduction of grades (as opposed to pass/no record for first-semester freshmen)). I'll try to have something here at least once a week (it'll probably be a little more), but in any case, don't expect much more than that.
Thanks to all the readers who have read and commented on these posts and subscribed. Please do continue!


Preview: Bodhi Linux 0.1.4 Beta

Main Screen + Main E17 Menu
I've been reading a lot of good things about Bodhi Linux recently. It's a young (just a few months old) Ubuntu-based distribution that exclusively uses the Enlightenment E17 WM. (The name is appropriate because Prince Siddartha (later to be known as the Buddha) achieved enlightenment under a bodhi tree.) I've used GNOME, KDE, Openbox, and a bit of LXDE, Xfce, and Fluxbox, but I've never used Enlightenment before, so this is a totally new experience to me. Plus, not only is Bodhi Linux in beta at version 0.1.4, even Enlightenment itself, after over a decade of development, is still in beta at version 0.17 (hence E17); the release of E17 after E16 (Enlightenment 0.16) was a huge deal for its users. It's a good thing that it's built on a familiar Ubuntu base, or else I'd be totally lost. I made a live USB of this with UnetBootin and went on my way, so follow the jump to see how this experience goes.


A Response to a Tiger Mother

There's been a lot of controversy about Amy Chua's memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother surrounding her harsh and very strict parenting methods. Even more controversy was created when excerpts from the book appeared as a condensed Wall Street Journal article.
Amy Chua has said in the book (and this part also appears in the WSJ article as well as, from which I am taking these points, Wikipedia's article on her and the book) that her daughters were not allowed sleepovers or playdates, parts in the school play (or complaining about that), grades lower than an A, TV or computer games, their own extracurricular activities, anything less than the top spot in every class, and instruments other than the piano and violin (or complaining about playing the piano or violin). This is also not an exhaustive list by any means.
However, there are a couple things that could potentially cool the flames slightly. First, Amy Chua has said that this is a memoir, not a manual/how-to guide. This is evident because later on in the book, she somewhat (but certainly not fully) backs off from her very strict methods and comes to terms with the fact that she does not have 100% control over her children and their activities. (Full disclosure: I have read neither the book nor the full article. The most I've read consists of a couple long passages from the book and article quoted in other writers' articles.) This ties in with the fact that the WSJ article solely focuses on her strict methods and totally leaves out the part about her "coming-of-age" as a parent. Through these qualifications, the book becomes a good deal more reasonable than it is initially made to be.
With all these things in mind, as a second-semester freshman undergraduate student, I would like to share my response to these things, so follow the jump to read on. I apologize if this doesn't sound like a formal article; it's more of a jumbled collection of thoughts that appear in my head as I see each point regarding her book.


Security Developments after the Moscow Attacks

Today, a terrorist blew up a section of the international arrival area of one of Moscow's airports. Around 35 people died with scores more injured. The particular section of the arrival area where the explosion occurred was low on security guards but filled with travelers moving from place to place; also, the explosive device was hidden in a suitcase. This is a terrible tragedy, and we should make sure that something like this doesn't happen again.
Now, I don't know what threat detection machines were in place in the airport, but it evidently wasn't sufficient to stop the attack from happening. But do we really need more annoying (and legally questionable) gizmos and procedures at every point?
I think not, because no matter what new deterrents and checks are put in place, determined terrorists will try their utmost to get around them. So what we really need is better and more effective intelligence-gathering as well as security guards who will look for suspicious activity and behavior (as opposed to just suspicious objects (which, of course, should still be searched)). It seems like after every tragedy regarding national security comes a disproportionately stronger response that also comes with a (often unnecessary) tightening of people's civil liberties and civil rights. So for once, after a national security tragedy, can we stay sane?
Speaking of which, the USA PATRIOT Act, which was supposed to expire at the end of this year, lives another year, for senators and representatives have passed a bill that also happens to have a provision for extending that Act's length by a year. Why do we need that law again? All I can do is sigh and shake my head.


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 January 16

There were a few posts that garnered a handful of comments, so I'll try to post most of them.

On Megabytes and Mebibytes

Reader T_Beermonster said, "how did you create your 900MiB partition and did you put a filesystem on it? Firstly you probably didn't actually get a 900MiB partition because most tools by default end up rounding to "cylinders" and giving you a bit less. Most linux filesystems by default are set up to reserve 5% of space for the root user - so that makes available space 855MiB as a user. depending what sort of jiggery-pokery is used to make the iso into a bootable USB a couple of MiB may not be enough room for manoeuvre. It could even be something as simple as a script expecting a partition size of 1GiB or greater and just not completing," later adding, "You could try using tune2fs to get rid of the 5% reservation of space - the partition is effectively going to be used as read-only anyway. tune2fs -m 0 /dev/sdg1 replace sdg with your usb device and use su or sudo as you prefer. That will give you an extra 45MiB to play with on a 900MiB partition. Which may be just enough - I should really go and look at the sizes of the mint iso's. I doubt the journal is taking up much room but you may want to consider going for an unjournaled fs on that partition given the read-only nature. The tune2fs trick is worth remembering in general anyway, particularly if you have a separate / and /home. /home doesn't need to reserve any space for the superuser and 5% of a 1TiB partition is 51.2GiB that would otherwise be sitting unavailable."

Review: Trisquel 4.0.1 LTS "Taranis"

Reader jai ho had this, among other things, to say: "I have tried Trisquel 4.0 and instead of going with gnome i have tried the LXDE version of Trisquel...The LXDE version uses Midori if i remember correctly...And is using gnash and the yuoutube video played correctly and all the flash adverts worked correctly... the only issue with gnash is with that i was not able to play facebook flash games ... i tried streaming music also and it worked correctly in some sites and not in other... i am really impressed with the Trisquel in short..."

Revisited: 3 Newbie-Friendly KDE Distributions

Reader Debianero suggested, "You've forget Debian6 with KDE4 (look for the CD image ending in -kde-CD-1.iso). The release will be around Feb, 5-6."
Commenter Sylvain said, "Which edition of Mandriva Linux do you use ? One, Free or powerpack ? For Pardus, why not using the latest version ?"

That's all for this past week. At the end of this coming week, I'll be going back to college for my second semester, meaning there'll be quite a bit less activity here. That said, I will try to have one post out every week. Remember, if you like the material, please continue subscribing and commenting!


Review: Pardus 2011

Installation DVD Boot Menu
Wow, what timing! Just yesterday I took another look at Pardus 2009.2 "Geronticus Eremita", and today Pardus 2011 is out! Incidentally, I previewed a beta release of Pardus 2011 to disappointing results. However, a few months before that, I did declare Pardus 2009.2 the winner of a 5-way comparison test, so I figure it's only fair to give Pardus another shot now that the newest official release is out in the wild.
For those who don't know, Pardus is a distribution developed primarily by scientific and military organizations in Turkey for their use, but is also reasonably popular among the general Linux-using populace in Turkey and abroad. It's not derived from any other distribution, and it uses KDE as the desktop base aiming to be newbie-friendly.
Unfortunately, given Pardus's failure to load on a MultiSystem-created multiboot live USB yesterday, I didn't do that today. Instead, I tested the installation procedure and installed system in VirtualBox on a Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME live USB. I allocated 1 GB of RAM to the guest OS as always.
With all that, follow the jump to see what the newest iteration of this Anatolian leopard is like.


Revisited: 3 Newbie-Friendly KDE Distributions

A few months ago, I did a comparison test between 5 KDE distributions that aim to be friendly to newbies. These distributions were PC-BSD 8.1 "Hubble" (which is technically a distribution of BSD, not Linux), PCLinuxOS 2010.07 KDE, openSUSE 11.3 KDE, Sabayon 5.3 KDE, and Pardus 2009.2 "Geronticus Eremita" (live CD). (I also tested Chakra Alpha 5 "Panora", but that wasn't compared to the others due to its pre-release nature.) I did all these tests on my old Sony VAIO desktop. I intended to make live USBs out of all of these using UnetBootin, but only Sabayon and (surprisingly, given its origin and its developers' previous statements about using UnetBootin in this particular case) PCLinuxOS cooperated. The others required that I make a live USB using the "dd" command, which wipes all existing data off the flash drive and writes the ISO file onto the USB with a primitive filesystem type that can't coexist with other partitions. This didn't look good for me, because I didn't want to keep erasing and rewriting data on the flash drive. Thus, I tested all these distributions in VirtualBox. The downsides to this were that as my old computer only had 1 GB of RAM, I could only allocate 448 MB of RAM to the guest OSs, which in some cases was clearly too little, and that I couldn't in some cases properly test things like hardware detection and installation of programs in this limited virtual environment.
Then, a couple weeks ago, I found a program called MultiSystem, which I wrote about promptly. This program allows writing a live multiboot setup to a USB drive partition without destroying other partitions. Plus, it supports distributions like Mandriva (which I tested shortly after the original comparison), openSUSE, and Pardus which otherwise require the "dd" command. (Unfortunately, it doesn't support either PC-BSD or Chakra, the latter of which is surprising in its omission considering that distributions like Arch, ArchBang, and CTKArchLive are all supported.) Clearly, this was what I needed. Now I could go back and test Mandriva, openSUSE, and Pardus as live USB systems with direct access to all my computer's hardware without issue. And that's exactly what I've done and that's the subject of today's post.
Please note that I'm not including any screenshots with this post because the relevant screenshots have already been put up in the previous comparison. Next, I'm not actually comparing these distributions to one another, as that's already been done — I'm just seeing if each one on its own will cooperate with my computer's hardware. Also, I realize that because I'm testing these on a much better computer than before (and I'm using Mandriva 2010.2 instead of version 2010.1 that was previously tested), the methodologies may turn out different results than before. With all that in mind, follow the jump to see how each one fares.


Review: Trisquel 4.0.1 LTS "Taranis"

Main Screen + Main Menu
I've read a couple of reviews of Trisquel GNU/Linux, an Ubuntu-based distribution which aims to remove as much non-free (i.e. proprietary) software from the kernel and distribution as possible. There are a couple other distributions that do this, like Slackware-based Kongoni, KNOPPIX-based Musix, and Fedora-based BLAG. However, as stated by Jim Lynch in his review of Trisquel 4.0 LTS "Taranis", quite a few of these other pure-free software distributions, such as Musix, BLAG, and DYNE:BOLIC, share a few common features which all conspire to turn off potential new users: incomplete/amateurish websites, too much talk about "overthrows" of proprietary software or free software "revolutions" (to the detriment of promoting the features of the OS itself), and less-than-user-friendly DEs/WMs (e.g. WindowMaker). It seems like using these distributions would be like wearing a cilice (also called a hair-shirt, a shirt medieval Christian monks used to wear with rough animal hair on the inside; the monks used to wear these to repent by causing themselves physical pain) — good for the soul and conscience, but not very comfortable and not something I would want to do. By contrast, Trisquel (whose code name for this release is, ironically, "Taranis", the Gallic thunder deity) has a very professional-looking website, uses a well-tailored implementation of GNOME, and touts the benefits of free software and of using Trisquel without getting preachy or heavy-handed. Taking the previous analogy further, it seems like using Trisquel would be more like wearing a comfortable jacket. Seeing the website and presentation of the distribution didn't turn me off, so I decided to proceed downloading the ISO file of the standard edition.
As this is an Ubuntu derivative, there's really no point in testing the installation procedure. What I'm looking for is compatibility with my hardware as well as the overall quality of the live session. Hence, after the download finished, I made a live USB system with UnetBootin, rebooted, changed the boot order in the BIOS, and went on my way. Follow the jump to see the results of that.


Comparison Test: Epiphany 2.30 vs. Midori 0.2.9 (on Tech Drive-in)

Yay! I've got another guest post on Tech Drive-in! This time it's a comparison test between the web browsers Epiphany 2.30 and Midori 0.2.9.
Here's a little snippet of the article I wrote:
Since then, Epiphany has also jumped onto the WebKit bandwagon. I've used both browsers before, but I've never tested them side-by-side. They are quite similar (at first glance) in nature and goals. Both aspire to be relatively lightweight GTK+ browsers. Both are built on the WebKit rendering engine. Both score 100/100 on the Acid3 browser standards compatibility test. But I want to see if there are any significant differences beyond that.
You can read the rest of the article here. Please support Tech Drive-in in any way possible. Enjoy!


On Megabytes and Mebibytes

Ever since I was a young kid, I was confused by how sometimes, a megabyte was 1000000 bytes and sometimes something different. This confusion still gets me to this day, and it's because there's no consistency.
The webcomic xkcd has a great take on it regarding the smaller unit kilobyte. For the unit "megabyte", the problem is compounded by the extra multiplication possibility: megabyte can not only be either 1000^2 or 1024^2 bytes, but it can also be 1024*1000 bytes.
Yesterday, that issue came back to bite me. I was creating a new partition on my flash drive to make a Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME live USB system. The ISO file is under 850 MB (whatever "MB" means), so I created a partition that's 900 MiB (a MiB is bigger than an MB, as far as I know) to be safe. I started UnetBootin and started writing the ISO to the partition, then got an error saying the partition has run out of room.
Now, it may be entirely possible that an ISO file takes up a lot more room when written to a USB stick partition as opposed to a CD/DVD, though I'd be surprised if it took up that much more room. But I have a feeling it's because of the inconsistent use of MB in GParted vs. Nautilus. Come on, can we please have some consistency?


Featured Comments: Week of 2011 January 9

There were a handful of comments on a few posts this week, so I'll repost them all.

Chinese Company Copying the Burj Khalifa

Reader T_Beermonster said, "I'm not aware that the Blackpool Tower has had any significant negative impact on Paris," then later added, " The Blackpool Tower isn't a copy of the Eiffel Tower as such, like the proposed hotel in Beijing it was "inspired by". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackpool_tower It is smaller, made with a cheaper construction method and was commercial in intent. There is also the Tokyo Tower which is much closer to being a (slightly) scaled up copy . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Tower"
Commenter da deepenator said, "ahem, great wall of china, ahem..."

Review: MultiSystem (a USB Multiboot Script)

Reader njmurarka asked, "Can you put a BART PE Windows ISO as one of the bootable OS's?" (It's actually already accessible in the GRUB4DOS menu entry available with every use of MultiSystem.)
Commenter Helton Moraes had this bit of praise for the script: " I use Multiboot for some six months now, and it is perfect. It is well written, complete, full of usefull options, adds persistence automagically, frequently updated, supports a lot of distros, and mostly WORK!!! It wont boot in some systems with weird BIOSes, but it is a minor problem. My main system (Mint 10) was installed from flash using multiboot, which is WAY faster than LiveCD."

Review: CrunchBang ("#!") Linux 10 "Statler" Openbox r20110105

An anonymous reader had this bit of support: "Nice review, thanks. I´ll use #! to resurrect my centrino laptop! My big problem with Leafpad is that it has no syntax highlighting."
Commenter Barista Uno also had this bit of support: "Thanks for the excellent review. I am tempted to renew my love affair with Crunchbang, which ended when I switched to Mandriva, thence to the Lubuntu varieties and now to PCLinuxOS."

Thanks to all those who commented on this past week's posts. This coming week, I hope to have a couple more reviews up. Remember, if you enjoy reading what's written in this space, please subscribe (through RSS, email, or Google following, all of which are on the sidebar) and continue commenting!


What a Verizon iPhone Means for Android and Verizon

This week, news that many eagerly awaited finally came true: the iPhone will become available for Verizon Wireless customers in less than a month. Initially, when the iPhone was introduced, many people were disappointed that it was only available for AT&T Wireless customers given AT&T's bad reputation for call quality and coverage and Verizon's good reputation for those things. These people are saying this move was long overdue.
But if you ask me, I actually think it's good that this happened now and not earlier. If the iPhone became available for Verizon around the same time that it became available for AT&T, Android would never have been able to flourish on cell phones; I'm pretty sure the main reason why Android is doing so well now is because Verizon latched onto it as an iOS-competitor, and as Verizon is the most popular carrier in the US, Android thus got a whole lot more exposure and credibility (which probably wouldn't have happened even if other major carriers like Sprint or T-Mobile chose to carry Android and Verizon got the iPhone). This can be seen by the fact that now even AT&T, the company with which the iPhone started selling, is selling Android devices like hotcakes. In addition, now, many Android phones are at least as good as (if not better than) the iPhone, feature-for-feature, so the iPhone, instead of carrying Verizon's smartphone market, is just another feather in its cap. That is, instead of being the only revenue stream, it's just one of many revenue streams for Verizon in terms of smartphones. More competition is always better, and I think it's good that Verizon didn't get the iPhone until now.


Announcing UberBang 10.04.2

I have posted an update to UberBang on the same SourceForge project page. It now includes the FBXKB keyboard layout switcher system tray icon, and Volumeicon and NM-Applet are now fully functional. Also present are the Openbox, GTK, and icon themes from the latest build of #! 10 "Statler"; however, the default GNOME-Colors-Statler icon theme used seems to not have been copied over correctly, as some icons (e.g. back, forward) appear a little weird. It seems like Elementary-Statler works fine though. Maybe for the next update I'll use that instead.
I read on the #! forums of people trying UberBang and being able to successfully use the live session but not being able to properly install it. With the previous releases I didn't have the time to look into these further; now I have the time, and I can confirm that UberBang doesn't install properly. It seems to be a known problem with Remastersys, but looking on the Remastersys forum didn't yield a whole lot of useful information (I tried one thing, but it led to a segmentation fault (another error type)). If anyone reading this has used and is familiar with Remastersys, please let me know what I should be doing so that UberBang can actually be installed.

In unrelated news, before coming to the Blogger Dashboard page, I often read news on various other tech sites including (but not limited to) TechDirt, Linux Today, Raiden's Realm, and Tech Drive-in. Having done that a couple minutes ago, I would like to let readers know that Raiden's Realm has been hacked; all that's present is scrolling mixed Arabic/English text on a black background.


On Sarah Palin and Gabrielle Giffords

Many of you know of the shooting that occurred last Saturday in Tucson, AZ. It's truly a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones on that day.
Since then, there's been a lot of talk about what role Sarah Palin had to play in all this, because a couple months ago, she had put online a map of various congressional districts marked with sniper rifle crosshairs (meaning voters should vote those representatives out of office), one of which was Representative Gabrielle Giffords's district. Sarah Palin herself has posted a response in the form of a recorded video online to these accusations linking her and the map to the shooting.
I think it's clear at this point that the shooting was not politically motivated — the perpetrator was a first-class lunatic who was targeting figures of government in general, so I figure that if it wasn't Giffords, it could just as easily have been someone else (Democrat or Republican). People around him say that for the last two years ago he had been exhibiting rather erratic and disturbing behavior, and he never really got over the fact that when he asked a question at a town hall meeting held by Giffords, she didn't answer his question. These people around him say that may have pushed him over the edge to obsessively plan to harm her.
Obviously, this guy was alienated and never got the help he needed. But could that map (with the crosshairs) have made all the difference? I think Sarah Palin could be connected to the shooting, but only to the extent that J. D. Salinger is connected to the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan (i.e. not at all). (The would-be assassin carried in his pocket at the time of the attempt a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and was very much influenced by its ideas of angst, alienation, and revolution.) Sarah Palin surely didn't mean for people to physically harm politicians (though some people debate that given that many of her supporters brought unconcealed weapons to opposing politicians' rallies), but that map, like J. D. Salinger's book for the would-be Reagan assassin, may have given the shooter the "official endorsement" (only in his own mind) he needed to carry out the attack. In short, Sarah Palin isn't responsible; loonies will always be loonies.
In her response video, Sarah Palin accuses the people accusing her of inciting the shooting of "blood libel". (Note: I haven't actually watched the video, but I think I have a decent idea of what she says based on other articles written about it that quote parts of the video.) While I think it's honorable that she defends the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and even talks about how Giffords was the one who read that a few days ago in Congress (when members of the House of Representatives were made to read selected passages from the Constitution), how she accuses the critics is pure Palin-style politics; she automatically assumes that the critics are just trying to score political points, and she still refuses to acknowledge that maybe — just maybe — the current political discourse needs to be toned down.
In summary: no, Palin is not responsible; yes, the guy was deranged and may have been influenced (in all the wrong ways) by that map; and yes, I think we can all benefit from cranking the political shouting down a few notches. John Stewart, I think we could all use another "Rally to Restore Sanity". (Cue Stephen Colbert's competing "March to Keep Fear Alive".)


Review: CrunchBang ("#!") Linux 10 "Statler" Openbox r20110105

Main Openbox Screen
I've had a couple of encounters with #! before, starting with this review of version 9.04.01 and including this review of version 10 "Statler" Openbox (Alpha 2). I was pleasantly surprised by the features and minimalistic beauty of version 9.04.01, and I was later slightly let down by the relative lack of polish and removal of some features in version 10 (Alpha 2). Now, the #! developers have come out with a (actually, two) post-alpha release(s) of version 10 "Statler". The website says this:
Regarding the “20101205″ thing, this release and any future Statler releases will now feature a date based revision identifier. There will not be any more “alpha” images and you should not expect to see any “beta”, “RC” or “final” images either.  From this point on, if anyone needs to make a judgment as to the stability of Statler, they should check the date based identifier against the progress of Debian Squeeze.
Given that Debian 6 "Squeeze" is probably going to come out soon, I think it's safe to assume that this is a stable release. I grabbed the newest version (r20110105) of the Openbox release (there is also an Xfce release available which I did not test) and went on my way.
In terms of testing, I tested the live session through a live USB (made through MultiSystem) on my computer. I mentioned in my previous post that VirtualBox on my Linux Mint system is broken; given that, I installed VirtualBox within the #! live session and used the already-downloaded ISO file to install #! onto a new virtual hard disk of size 10 GB (with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS) — more on that later. Follow the jump to see how #! compares and to see if it has improved any since Alpha 2.


Review: MultiSystem (a USB Multiboot Script)

A couple days ago, I saw featured on Linux Today an article in PCPlus about a new USB multiboot creation script called MultiSystem. It's a GUI tool, which is nice for newbies like myself, and it automates the creation of a multiboot live USB from multiple live ISO files.
Now, as many readers know, I've tried a not once, not twice, but three times to make a multiboot setup. The recurring issues I had each time were that each ISO file was written to a different partition and there was no unified boot menu to select a live session among the different partitions. There are other ways to do this, mainly using the command prompt and extraction tools, but I was too lazy/pressed for time to try such things. I had read about other GUI extraction tools, but they seemed a bit too limited in the distributions they could handle. Then, I saw this.
This tool seems to be the holy grail of multiboot live USB creation. You can read more about it in the original article and on the project's website (in French, but can be translated via Google Translate), but this tool seems to support almost every distribution listed on DistroWatch (currently running at around 650 distributions listed) and then some (e.g. Fuduntu). Plus, it doesn't seem to have any of the caveats of other tools, like not being able to multiboot Ubuntu and Linux Mint at the same time (as Linux Mint is too similar to Ubuntu). It even allows for testing the final multiboot system in a virtual machine. I'm not going to fully review the application, as that's in the original PCPlus article, but I will share a couple experiences I had with it.
One issue with many distributions today is that they aren't fully supported by UnetBootin, so they can't be written to a partition of a USB stick without destroying all other data present on the stick. MultiSystem seems to get around that issue, as it was able to write on the first of my four partitions of my 8 GB Sandisk Cruzer Micro USB drive without destroying the other three; the distribution I tried (it can make "multiboot" systems with just one distribution as well) was CrunchBang 10 "Statler", which no longer works with UnetBootin and typically requires the "dd" command (which destroys all other data present on a USB stick) to be written to a USB stick. This is exciting for me, as I can now also test other distributions like Mandriva and openSUSE (which similarly can only use the "dd" command to be written to a USB stick) on my computer without the need for a virtual machine. I can confirm that my CrunchBang live USB worked, so keep your eyes open for a review of that very soon.
Preparing the USB was a little tedious but wasn't too big an issue. It was a little odd when I picked the ISO files for writing; I expected to only select one file at a time in the file dialog, but when I only selected CrunchBang, that somehow became my final selection, and I couldn't pick anything else for writing onto the USB stick. I guess I need to be more careful when selecting multiple ISO files.
It's nice that the script also offers the ability to test the new system in QEMU or VirtualBox, but unfortunately, neither worked for me. That doesn't matter much, as I don't really lose anything by actually trying out the live USB on my computer (i.e. changing the BIOS and all that jazz). However, I do hope for the sake of the application itself that this gets fixed soon.
It isn't possible to create separate multiboot systems on different partitions, but because GRUB is installed in the USB stick's master boot record (MBR) I suppose I shouldn't expect anything different.
Otherwise, I am extraordinarily pleased with this application. I don't have any real reason to try new multiboot setups; this is what I'll be using from now on. Along with a new CrunchBang review, you can also look forward to second looks at Mandriva and openSUSE now that I can see how well they might play with my computer's hardware.
(UPDATE: As it turns out, MultiSystem installs KVM (or something like that) which somehow modifies the Linux kernel slightly, and this is why its built-in VirtualBox application doesn't work properly. Actually, its "built-in" VirtualBox program uses my installed VirtualBox program to run, meaning my already-installed VirtualBox no longer functions correctly. Now, if I want to use my virtual machines, I'll need to boot into a live USB (like Pinguy OS) which, ironically, may be created with MultiSystem. Oh well.)


Chinese Company Copying the Burj Khalifa

There's a relatively new article (Liz Goodwin, Yahoo! News) reporting on how Chinese land developers are looking to build a skyscraper that rips off of the design of Dubai's Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai). I've seen Chinese manufacturers use (without much modification) foreign competitors' designs before, but this takes it to a level I haven't seen before.
There are two questions I have upon seeing this: how much harm will such blatant copying really do, and what's the best way to prevent it from happening in the future?
Skyscrapers have become icons of cities and their countries. The Eiffel Tower stands for Paris and all of France, as does the Empire State Building for New York City and the US as well as (now) the Burj Khalifa for Dubai and the UAE. As far as I know, China has yet to build such an iconic skyscraper (though it has built plenty of skyscrapers in general in the recent past); maybe it's just me, but I can't associate any particular tall structure with China. So it seems to me a little questionable that the new (presumably) tallest structure in Beijing should be a copycat of another existing structure.
But how much economic harm does Chinese copying really do? Let's look at movies: though China has become [in]famous for rampant DVD piracy, the US movie industry's revenues and profits have increased year after year; even the MPAA admits as much. So clearly, that can't be an issue. Next, let's look at cars: at one point, Chinese automaker Chery sold a car called the QQ that was identical (without a manufacturing license) to GM's Chevrolet Matiz; not only did they look extraordinarily similar, but even large parts like doors were interchangeable. (GM threatened to sue Chery for patent infringement, and Chery responded by changing the design significantly a couple years later.) Yet, through it all, the Chevrolet Matiz continued to sell well in China regardless of Chery's actions. (This is also because, as far as I know, in China, domestic automakers only cater to the lower end of the market, while Chinese consumers prefer foreign cars higher up the spectrum. Thus, the Chevrolet Matiz had a higher perception of quality among consumers than the Chery QQ. Then again, I don't know how the two cars were priced relative to one another when this fiasco went on.) So here as well it's safe to say that copying didn't really negatively affect other companies (except for the money lost through the accompanying lawsuit(s)) or the Chinese car market on the whole. Now let's look at skyscrapers themselves: the article says that the Burj Khalifa suffered from construction issues (which negatively affected perceptions of visitors/tourists and potential lessees) and "by the autumn, a mere 8 percent of the Burj Khalifa's apartments were occupied, [while rents] had fallen by almost half." This all happened before Chinese developers planned to erect a copycat of that tower in Beijing. This of course remains to be seen, but I don't believe the Beijing tower will actually gain business at the expense of the Burj Khalifa, simply because there are other factors in play, chiefly factors relating to the surrounding city (e.g. business environment, laws, other businesses/attractions present, et cetera). They aren't just going to compete over the design and facilities over the towers themselves.
But given that this will likely become an icon of Beijing, it would be nicer if the tower was an original design. So what's going to stop such copying in the future? Well, recent articles in places like Slashdot and TechDirt show that Chinese companies and government entities are sourcing (and sometimes copying without licenses) foreign technologies to build their infrastructure and patenting the products along the way. This is to go along with the US's repeated demands to comply with IP laws. Yet, with these patents in place, the US can't compete, and China will continue such practices to their own benefit. It's clear that Chinese businesses only comply with international IP laws when it suits them (and flagrantly tramples over them otherwise). Unfortunately (or fortunately), I don't think anything is going to stop them now.

Featured Comments: Week of 2011 January 2

There weren't too many comments this week, so I'll post all of them.

Julian Assange: Traitor?

Reader T_Beermonster said, "I really don't see how an Australian citizen, operating a business out of Sweden and currently located in the UK, with no obvious allegiance to the US could be prosecuted for Treason by the US. Sedition suffers a similar hurdle. The most likely option would be espionage of some sort - but then it would be difficult to justify going after one publisher (Assange/Wikileaks) but not others (New York Times among others) unless there were evidence of that specific publisher inciting the actual "spy" to gather and supply the data."

Movie Review: 2012: Doomsday

An anonymous commenter had this experience to share: "I also saw this film with colleagues at work on our lunch hour, what a laugh we had at this pathetically bad movie. I bet though that they got pretty decent money on this confusion with the other movie."

Thanks to these two readers for posting comments this week. Remember, if you like what I write, please continue subscribing and commenting! This week I'll have at least one review out, so keep your eyes open for that.


Movie Review: 2012: Doomsday

I have to confess that (1) I'm not a huge fan of apocalypse films and (2) I had some preconceived notions of the movie before watching it. The entire premise of the movie is based on the Mayan "Long Count" calendar ending on 2012 December 21, but the truth (according to the Mayans) is that when the calendar reaches its end a new era begins and the calendar will restart (i.e. the world won't end) and that the date isn't actually 2012. I felt like this would destroy the premise of the movie, leaving in its wake just another generic apocalypse movie. However, my family really wanted to watch it, so I gave in and watched as well.
2012 is 83 minutes long, and thankfully no more; it was pretty bad. For one, the dialogue was some of the cheesiest trash I've ever seen, and this especially comes out when some of the characters vocalize the conflict between their newfound faith and their aversion to faith. But then, people don't generally watch apocalypse movies for the dialogue, so I figured there would be some awesome whiz-bang special effects to make up for the utter lack of dialogue.
I was wrong on that count as well. The rain and snow effects were some of the worst I've seen. When snow was falling in central Mexico, it looked like it was falling on a screen placed in front of the rest of the characters and scenery. Furthermore, it seemed to stick to the characters' hair but not to the surrounding fauna and flora, which makes no sense considering the characters' hair is probably a lot warmer than the surrounding plant life. The rain effects looked like they came straight out of an Indian movie from the 1960s (they were that bad). KDE 4 (or even TWM in Slackware) has better rain and snow effects than that movie.
Finally, all the preaching and talk about the anointed messengers (who, except for the indigenous girl and her baby, were all white Americans) of Jesus was a bit uncomfortable. I strongly suspect that this was actually a Christian filmmaker that made this movie (evidenced by the production group "Faith Films"), which also accounts for the pathetic effects and garbage dialogue. I'm surprised that such a niche movie made it into mainstream movie theaters.
In short, don't watch this movie (unless you're into preachy Christian films, and if you are, I have nothing against you).
(UPDATE: It turns out that I watched the wrong 2012. The real 2012, based on the Wikipedia article, is nothing like this. What I watched was some poorly-done evangelical knockoff. Wow! (UPDATE: As it turns out, my family bought this from Wal-Mart, explaining the emphasis on Christianity. Also, the title of this movie is 2012: Doomsday (which would probably have avoided trademark issues with the real 2012). I've updated the title accordingly.))


Homeless Radio Announcer Video Taken Down

If you've been keeping up with the news around the Internet, you know that there's a viral video of a homeless man named Ted Williams who has a great radio-announcing voice. The video spread everywhere, and within a day or two, he got dozens of offers for both local and national announcing gigs.
Unfortunately, as Mike Masnick of TechDirt reports, that video has been taken down from YouTube at the request of the Columbus Dispatch, an employee of which shot the original video.
The person who shot and posted the video online specifically asked for viewers to forward this to friends and contacts to spread the word and help the gentleman land a job. And yes, all the good things that happened to Ted Williams happened because of the video going viral and people taking notice. So now the employee's company is claiming copyright infringement/DMCA violations? What?
This is a huge slap in the face of all the people who did the right thing and let other people know to help this man. I have a feeling that someone higher up in the company said something along the lines of "the video served its purpose, so it's no longer needed, and keeping it up any longer would be copyright infringement." (I think the reason they can claim that is because anything the employee creates is the company's copyright (as it is a work-for-hire or something like that).) It reminds me of the part of Animal Farm by George Orwell where Napoleon the pig and new leader abolishes the old anthem (which extolled freedom, equality, and the like) and replaces it with a new anthem (extolling Napoleon, Napoleon, and Napoleon) for the reason that the animals are already free from the dictatorial farmer so it no longer serves a purpose.
If there are any readers from Ohio, can you please send the Columbus Dispatch polite angry letters asking for the video to be reinstated?


Autofailblog: Edmunds Inside Line's Appalling Recent BMW X3 Review

It's been a really long time (over a year, in fact) since I've done an Autofailblog post. I read Edmunds Inside Line fairly frequently, and this week I came across this article reviewing the BMW X3 compact CUV.
Frequently, this online site has been criticized for being biased towards BMWs by brushing off faults that would be roundly criticized in other cars and giving excessive praise to certain other traits that would only earn mild praise in other cars. While I feel like that has become more true over the years (I've been reading it for over 4 years), I haven't really been bothered too much by it — until now.
First of all, while I should probably practice better what I'm about to preach, the writing style in that article is the epitome of incoherence. Take a look at this particular gem:
Let the weight of your shoe sink the throttle in a way intended not to clear the roadway but to maintain the integrity of the spiral "with whip" atop your caramel brûlée latte, and you'll have to be an astute gauge-watcher to notice you've moved at all. Of course, the heads-up speedometer reads 50 and the BMW is in 7th gear, but the sensation is like being wheeled into surgery on a hospital bed as someone has you counting, "10...9...8...."
What does that even mean? I know it generally speaks to the smoothness with which the car accelerates, but I had to read this a couple times and I still don't fully understand the point of the above statement.
Continuing on, the author of the article mildly scolds the X3 for excessive throttle lag and overly light steering, yet in both cases, the author quickly makes up for it with words of flowering praise.
Finally, there's this conclusion that made plenty of readers wonder aloud whether the site is in BMW's pocket:
Just don't expect it to be the Ultimate Driving Machine. After all, BMWs are about Joy now, and Joy isn't about responsive driving dynamics or throttle response. Joy, it turns out, is about isolation and comfort and in that, the 2011 BMW X3 excels.
This is straight from BMW's marketing playbook: they've moved away from the "Ultimate Driving Machine" image towards "Joy". Frequently, other competing cars are compared to the "Ultimate Driving Machine", yet the new BMWs are no longer held to that same standard. Furthermore, the author has blatantly defined "joy" to encompass all of the BMW X3's strengths and none of its weaknesses, such that it will seem like a much better car than it really is. In essence, new BMWs are being held to a far different standard than other cars, which are held to the standard of slightly older BMWs. Can anyone say "bribery"?
Reading that article reminded me in some ways of Jim Lynch's disappointing review (which I similarly lambasted), but in reverse. That article managed to turn molehills into mountains, along with disregarding standards to which previous distributions had been held in previous reviews. This one turns mountains into molehills, while also similarly disregarding existing standards. I said I have read Edmunds Inside Line since late 2006. I won't stop reading for the foreseeable future, but I will certainly scrutinize future articles (especially those on BMWs) a lot more.


Fresh OS, Rolling Releases, and Debian as of 2011 January 5

It's been quite a while since I've done one of these massive combined posts, but I feel like it's necessary today.
I mentioned in a post a couple days ago that, along with releasing an update to UberBang, I would continue working on a new build of Fresh OS. Well, those plans (regarding Fresh OS) have hit a snag (actually, a couple of snags). For everyone's information, I've been starting with Linux Mint "Debian" and using Hadret's Debian PPA for all the requisite Elementary-fication. The thing is, there are two separate Hadret repositories ("unstable" and "experimental"), and some packages from "unstable" have been moved to "experimental" (for reasons that I still don't get); these include pretty important ones like Nautilus Elementary (a modification of Nautilus that makes it a lot less cluttered and a lot easier to work with). What this means is that these packages, as I found out the hard way, are more likely to break certain things in the system (though I would think that Nautilus Elementary would be essentially unchanged). Anyway, installing Nautilus Elementary caused the desktop wallpaper to be replaced by a plain blue background, though the wallpaper switcher claims that the wallpaper I selected is still in effect. This is combined with Gloobus Preview and CoverGloobus breaking some other packages and preventing updates from running smoothly.
I looked for solutions to this in the Linux Mint forums and found that it probably is because of Hadret's repository not playing nicely with Linux Mint "Debian" and its rolling-release model. I also saw another interesting tidbit about Jupiter OS, a similar project to Fresh OS, being abandoned due to the developer having difficulties with porting over the applications and other things as well as feeling competition with Pinguy OS. While I don't feel any competition with Pinguy OS (hey, we're all in this together), I can certainly see where the difficulties come in (as it seems like the Jupiter OS developer also used Hadret's repositories).
That brings me to my general beefs with Linux Mint "Debian". I've said most of them already, but just to sum it up, it seems like Linux Mint "Debian" is having a lot more trouble with stability and working packages than standard Linux Mint. Granted, the developers themselves warned of this, but for supposedly keeping very close to the standard edition, it certainly is unstable. Maybe I just need to give it a few more months for it to work out problems with stability associated with a rolling-release model.
Finally, though this is somewhat unrelated, Debian 6 "Squeeze" should be coming out within this month! I say this only because some developers have said that the current number of known bugs is about the same as in version 5 "Lenny" when it was released. Also, there's been a bit of complaint over the new artwork. I too am not a fan of it, but it comes from the codename, which comes from the Squeeze alien toys from the Toy Story series.
Given the issues I've been having with Fresh OS based on Linux Mint "Debian", I'm going to try to do it now with plain Debian 6 "Squeeze". I'll try that and write more later about how that goes.


Comparison Test: Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME vs. Pinguy OS 10.10 (on Tech Drive-in)

Yay! I scored my second guest post! This one is a comparison between Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME and Pinguy OS 10.10, two featured-packed newbie-friendly Ubuntu-based GNOME distributions. Here's a short tidbit from the article, which has been published on Tech Drive-in:
[...] First, some history. Linux Mint was started in 2006 with the release of version 1 "Ada", based on Kubuntu 6.06 LTS "Dapper Drake". Though that release was KDE-based and unstable then and was seen as Kubuntu with a few extra goodies, it has since been developed into a mature, feature-filled, GNOME-based distribution in its own right. On the other hand, Pinguy OS is a much newer project, having started in 2010 with the release of version 10.04 (based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx"). It too is a feature-filled GNOME-based distribution, so it's only fair that it go head-to-head with Linux Mint. [...]
Please do read the rest of the article here. Enjoy!


Julian Assange: Traitor?

This comes from a conversation I had with a few friends at a new year's get-together. The topic of WikiLeaks somehow came up, so I briefly mentioned how it's good that WikiLeaks is doing what it has done so far, and that because someone within the military leaked the documents (and WikiLeaks just published the already-leaked documents), if it wasn't WikiLeaks, it could have just as easily been a different organization.
They disagreed, saying that though the documents this time around may not have been harmful, that could easily happen with the next round of publication of leaked cables. They also said that for that, Julian Assange should be tried for treason (if such dangerous cables do get leaked).
And you know what? I agree with them on that last point. Although most documents are likely to be relatively innocuous, there are likely to be some cables that do truly threaten our national security, and those should not be published (and if they are, then certainly Assange should at least be tried). (Then again, as Assange is not a US citizen, I'm not sure how that would even work, but that's another story for another day.)
But WikiLeaks will never publish any truly sensitive documents. Why? Two key facts that most major news media leave out are that, for one, of the roughly two million documents WikiLeaks has in its possession, it has only published two thousand, or 0.1%, and all of these published documents have been published by other major news outlets as well (some before WikiLeaks, in fact). The other key fact is that every single document that WikiLeaks publishes is done with the approval of the government (and this includes edits like redactions), so no matter how strongly some members of the government may condemn WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, someone group of people in the government is approving all this (probably in the executive branch/bureaucracy, which explains why the legislators are the ones getting most worked-up), and WikiLeaks will never publish any truly sensitive documents (provided they continue to abide by these procedures).


Featured Comments: Week of 2010 December 26

There was only one post last week that garnered comments, but there were a lot of comments. (I find it interesting that most of last week was part of last year.)

Apologies about the Slackware Review

Reader dick had a long comment, so I'm only repeating part of it: "Just a suggestion if you try Arch. I did a couple of years ago and found it really an interesting period of time. I tried first on my own and had no success at all. Then I stumbled across a website called Raiden, if I remember right. Raiden had a huge instruction manual on how to install Arch from beginning to end. It was great as it answered all my questions and pointed me in the right direction. Slight problem with getting X to work but other than that it was not bad at all. The distro itself is great. Worked like a charm for a bit until someone put an update in the wrong place and it hosed my installation. [...]"
Reader John had this advice if I try Slackware again in the future: "Slackware is not a distro for newbies, that's for sure. I tried it several years ago when I first switched to Linux and was totally lost. After a couple of years of using Linux I decided to try it again but used Zenwalk to do it. It made life simpler for me. Then I did switch to Slackware 13.0 its self and found that I could use it. It gives you all of the basics and that is about it. I found the support on the forum and the instructions found through the site to be friendly and helpful. You should have visited slackbuilds.org. You can build almost anything from there. And that is what you should expect to do with Slackware. I did move from there to Salix which is pure Slackware. You should give it a try, it is Slackware made easy. You will find some very friendly and helpful people there with a growing repository of software to use."
An anonymous commenter had a thought about me trying to cultivate a positive reputation in this blog: " The sad thing about this...how correct you are on how the Linux community approaches users. I find usually merciless and condescending. They say there two types of people that fly. Those who get air sick and those who have yet to get airsick. I kinda approach Linux users the same way. Those that have an problem and those that yet have a problem. "Newbie" and "Pro" are arbitrary status'. This is always from the point of the observer. Either way, I think you are on the way to gaining the reputation as an honest person concerning Linux it's "quirks". Just a thought."
Commenter DoctorPepper had quite a few helpful links regarding Slackware, along with a couple other thoughts: "Slackware was my third distro, back in the late 1990's (Red Hat -> Mandrake -> Slackware), and it was a bit easier for me to deal with, having cut my teeth, so to speak, on the other two. Back then you still had to do a lot of compiling to get extra software installed, but these days it is somewhat easier."
Reader Sum Yung Gal said, among other things, "I use Slackware mostly on my laptops. The reason for this is that it's just easier, as a technical engineer, for me to do things with it than with Ubuntu, Red Hat/Fedora, or most other distros. For me, wireless connectivity is just easier with Slackware. When I do things "the Slackware way", I can do them on any other distro as well as the BSD's. Everything is pretty much the standard UNIX way, which I like. Now, would I have Aunt Tillie the teacher on it? No, not typically, unless it's in an LTSP-style thin-client environment where I, the sysadmin, can control what the users see."
Commenter V. T. Eric Layton had this to say about Slackware and the two posts I wrote: " Prashanth, I don't believe you should be apologizing for your review of Slackware 13.1. You did a fine job of writing your review. Reviews are nothing more than a reviewer's opinion. I think you did a fine job of expressing yours. Slackware is not a distribution that I recommend to new Linux Adventurers. Most folks are GUI dependent, having come over from MS Windows. It's best for them to get acquainted with Linux using a kinder and gentler distro such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, etc. Slackware isn't designed to be the "all things to everyone" type distribution. It's the oldest still maintained distribution of GNU/Linux. It is based on the philosophy of stability and simplicity. What you saw as complications and annoyances are the reason those of us who use Slackware as a primary operating system love it. Feature richness inherently includes complexity. Complexity walks hand in hand with fault and failure. The more simple something is, the less likely it is to fail. This is why Debian is also a rock solid platform. The more bells and whistles, the more there is to break. It's just the way it is."
An anonymous commenter said, " No need to apologize. I am a Linux noob as well, but I've been running Slackware for over a year as my only distro. Contrary to what you said in the comments of your other post, I don't run Slack because I'm too lazy to try Arch. Slackware is not a larval state distro from which people will depart once they find a better one. In my opinion, it IS the best one. There's a saying about Linux that I think fits Slackware like a glove: 'Slackware IS user-friendly. It is NOT, however, idiot-friendly or ignorant-friendly.'"

Thanks to all those who commented this week. I will have a couple more reviews and other related posts coming up. Remember, if you like the material I write, please continue subscribing and commenting!

Happy New Year 2011!

Happy new year everyone! 2010 was a truly amazing and special year for me, but even so, I hope 2011 also turns out to be a great year!
What did you all love or hate most about 2010, and what do you hope for 2011? Please let me know in the comments below!