Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ubuntu Update

Sorry for the lack of posts, but I have been working through my Ubuntu for Non-Geeks book and trying to get things working smoothing under the current version (7.10 - Gutsy Gibbon). It mostly works. In fact, I am typing this in Firefox running on Ubuntu 7.10. Thoughts so far:

In general, if you don't like geeking around with your PC and just want the dang thing to work when you try to get your e-mail or pull some photos off the digital camera, Ubuntu probably isn't for you. I keep hearing these stories about guys that have set up an Ubuntu PC for their 80-year-old grandparents and it's been running trouble-free without so much as a reboot for two years. I don't mean to call anyone a liar, but I gonna have to on this one. I can't go 48 hours without a reboot to fix some glitch with printing, external drives, sound, wireless networking, etc. I mostly have things working, most of the time. But for me a PC is a tool that I use to accomplish certain tasks, not an end in itself. What is most frustrating is how close Ubuntu is. So. Frustratingly. Close.

So, to the details. Non-geeks may want to skip this part.

First off, the book I used said it was for non-geeks. I disagree. It is for geeks who like to accomplish tasks instead of endlessly noodling around with their system. It will show you how to do certain routine tasks and how to set up things that just work out-of-the-box in Windows or on a Mac. And like any book of this sort, there were things that just didn't work the way the book said they should even though the version of Ubuntu the book was written to (7.04 Feisty Fawn) was included on a CD in the back of the book. Some of those I was able to work around after poking about in the Ubuntu forums. Some I was never able to work through.

The biggest problem with Ubuntu is expectations. Everywhere you look, all you hear is "just install it and everything you could possibly want to do is ready to go!" Ubuntu's web site, blogs, forums, magazine reviews, all go on and on breathlessly how switching to Ubuntu will be the easiest thing you will ever do on a PC. Which, I suppose, is true given the following caveats:
- You never intend to watch a commercial DVD on your PC.
- You never intend to watch any video in any of the most common formats (Divx, MPEG, Real, or Flash).
- You never intend to listen to music in any of the most common formats (MP3, WAV).
- You have external or non-booting internal drives in any of the most common formats (NTFS, FAT32).

If you want to do any of these radical, off-the-wall things (and the *nix community will make sure that you feel that only a complete moron would, for example, want their music in MP3 instead of the far-superior-yet-completely-unheard-of OGG format, which is nearly universally ignored by the entire electronics industry because they've all been bought out by The Man), you will be directed to a special repository that forces you to agree to a long, scary disclaimer. The gist of the disclaimer is that most everything in the repository is illegal to install if you live in the United States, and if you install any of it, you will spend the rest of your natural life in a federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison. Yep. I can just see granny clicking "I Agree" to that one. Sure.

The interface is pretty good. About Windows XP good by default. I just stumbled on a setting that adds some eye candy if you have a fast graphics card which bumps it up to maybe Vista (when Vista works, that is). Not bad, and certainly better that previous Linux distros that I've tried, but out of the box, it's still pretty vanilla. I can change much of that, which is cool, but it requires a lot geeking around and hours of downloading stuff off the internet to do it. Again, speaking for myself and most everyone I know, I don't wish to spend days and days just trying to find, download, and install a desktop background. I'd rather irritate large numbers of people by posting racist stuff on our blog. (OK, make that "irritate small numbers of people." Or maybe "irritate three people." Whatever.)

Most of the common applications lack polish. They work. Sort of. Most of the time. But they just don't have that loose-ends-tied-up feel of a typical Windows application. This is true even when comparing the Ubuntu version of an application with the Windows version of the very same application. For example, Ubuntu Firefox doesn't render correctly. Windows Firefox has no problem with that page. Worse, this has been true for at least three years. That's a long time to have a persistent rendering bug in a browser. Another example is Google's Picasa. The Ubuntu version refuses to admit to the existence of any drive other than the Ubuntu boot drive. My photos are on an external drive, so Picasa is nothing but a waste of disk space on my Ubuntu partition. The Windows version, as one would expect, has no problem with my external hard drive. The Linux alternative is F-Spot Photo Manager, which really isn't an alternative at all. It is a perfect example of software written by people who never actually use it. I'm sure it works at some crude level, but why would I bother working with an interface I wouldn't have found acceptable in 1987, when something far superior already exists?

Lots of little gotcha's that don't even make sense: Audio playback has little glitches in it, like a dual core PC with a gig of RAM isn't up to the task of playing back MP3's. Please. All video playback ignores the audio device set up in System Preferences and plays audio through the laptop speakers at a nearly inaudible volume. Ubuntu insists that I don't have permission to even mount one of my external hard drives. The other two mount just fine. The really odd thing is that if I power up the drives in a different order, a different drive suddenly becomes unmountable. Wireless networking has definitely improved from previous versions when it didn't work at all to the current version that mostly works, but requires periodic rebooting to bring the connection back to life. I know the network here, especially the wireless network, is at best shaky, but again, Windows has no problem re-establishing a dead connection without requiring a reboot.

And that is pretty much where I'm at right now. I'll keep picking away at each issue, and I'm sure there are answers to most of them, but this is certainly not the painless computing that the fanboys rave about.

[Update: Yahoo's home page now renders correctly in Firefox. There was an update that I installed late last night that must have fixed it. However, I am posting this update from Windows because Ubuntu's DVD Rip is a nightmare. I'm sure I can do the same thing I do with Window's Magic DVD Ripper, but I fear I will need to pay $40 or more for a book to explain to me how it is done. Magic is simple: load the DVD, the software picks the title that contains the actual movie, remembers where you want the results stored, defaults the target file name, and remembers that I want a single file in MPEG format. I click Start and in 45 minutes or so, I have a perfect copy of whatever DVD I loaded. Ubuntu's DVD Rip is geek-ware; intended for someone that would rather make a project (the software's term, not mine) out of something so simple. Now I'm sure DVD Rip can do a lot more than Magic's DVD Ripper, but the software developers seem to think that I want to have that fact rubbed in my face while I'm trying to do something quite simple.]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Whatz up?!

Not too much here. This weekend it finally started getting warmer again. Saturday we had a great day in Prescott -- great weather to lounge around in downtown and read/people watch. We, of course, had to walk over to one of our favorite places to get some homemade ice cream. We went to see a college men's soccer game. (They may be new clients of mine) They won. The past weekend alot of my coworkers and their family members went to the first home game of the Sundogs. (A hockey team) It was group night and us employees had free tickets. It was fun --- sudden death OT -- we won.

A funny thing that happened at the hockey game. When Ric came back from visiting the restroom, he told me we had to call my Mom. I looked perplexed until he finally told me about the "johnny ads" Guess who is suppose to be coming to little Prescott Valley and Tim Toyota Center next year? Yep --- Mr Tom Jones, himself! I told Ric I may have to take him to see his first Tom Jones concert --- he told me that he could pass up the experience.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Global Warming. Again.

Yea, yea, yea. I know I need to shut up about this, but just one more. Promise. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a finger in my eye.

OK, we both know I can't leave this one alone. This is an article on Russel Seitz's site discussing the law of unintended consequences.

Not that any of it matters much. No Child Left Behind will turn us into a third world country in a generation or two which will drastically reduce both our population and our CO2 emissions. That should make the greenies happy.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

He's Outa Here!!

We all know what you can't say and who you can't say it about.

Welcome to our brave new world where facts are subservient to political agendas.

[Update: Fred even came out of retirement for this one.]

[Later Update: Bob Thompson also has a few thoughts. Money Quote: "The politically correct push the idea that unequal outcome proves unequal opportunity, which is a lie. The differences in ability between the races and sexes guarantee that equal opportunity will result in unequal outcomes. The equalest opportunity in the world won't produce many female weightlifting champions, nor many white marathon champions, nor many black astrophysicists. That's reality, and attempting to force things to be otherwise is simply evil."]


Not planning on going anywhere for a while, are you?

How long until $100?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Burn Baby, Burn

I got a little toasted Friday while I was on tail for the last pour of the day. There are three of the leather coats that have long enough sleeves to protect my wrists from the heat. The one I grabbed Friday had something spilled on the sleeve, or it had been burned somehow, or it just wore out. In any case, by the time we were half way through the pour, it was pretty obvious that there was something wrong. But there really isn't a way to stop the pour and by the time someone else had suited up to take my place, we would be done anyway. So I just had to suck it up and finish the job. When I took the jacket off, my right arm looked like it had a bad sunburn. It has mostly faded, but I have a couple spots that are still red and one looks like it's trying to blister.

Needless to say, there are now only two jackets that fit me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Streak Ends...

... if you can call two-in-a-row a streak. Yesterday I made 126's for the first time, otherwise known as "butt bells." The first problem was a broken mold, so I only poured 17 instead of 18 bells for the day. Then I trashed three of the 17 due to flashing and/or swelling. Tuesday I was on grinder and today I made fins. Tomorrow I make 112's, which I also believe is a first for me. Ugliest bell we make.

Perfection came to an end.


Dr. Watson (as in one of the two scientists that discovered the shape of our DNA) just set off a firestorm to beat all firestorms. Bob Thompson has a few thoughts of his own. Given that a couple nooses hung in a tree is justification for blacks to set buildings on fire and beat random whites, I'm sure something of this magnitude will justify a black hit-squad going after Dr. Watson.

Of course, given the precedents like Rhodesia and Washington DC, the hit squad would likely end up in London trying to find 221B Baker Street.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I am posting this from Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn). I bought a book on Jerry Pournelle's recommendation called Ubuntu for Non-Geeks. I'm up to chapter four so far tonight and have Ubuntu installed on our newest laptop running dual-boot with Windows, and have successfully connected to the internet over Arcosanti's wireless network. In the past, I have played with Kubuntu and Xubuntu, but I think I prefer the straight Ubuntu so far.

The plan is that I will work my way through this book, then see what else I am missing that I use in Windows. Once I never have to boot into Windows and have Debbie nice and comfy with Ubuntu, it will be "Bu-bye Windows!" I'd like to be off Windows fairly soon as the laptop has become increasingly unstable over the last month. I don't have any malware that Microsoft's OneCare can find, but there is always the chance that something has sneaked in some back door. The most likely cause is either the usual Windows inter-application DLL warfare, or Windows has just built up enough cruft that is has become unstable.

Anyway, wish me luck.

Star Wars Geeks

So, what's geekier than building and attempting to launch a full-scale model of an X-Wing? Modifying your video of it exploding shortly after launch.

And then they voted. Assuming the ballot was printed in Klingon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Delux Chicken Coop

The agriculture department is trying to step up egg production. The problem is that the existing chicken is too small for the chickens we already have, not to mention that it is in pretty bad repair. So a project was started about the same time I moved to the foundry to build a new chicken coop. It looks pretty good for a chicken coop.

The outside is an earth plaster, with old wine bottles pushed through the walls to provide some light in the coop. It sits on a cement footing that was decorated with floor tile left over from other projects. Looks better than a lot of the resident spaces.

24 for 24

Both Friday and today, I had perfect days. Friday I made 106's; today I made 110's. I picked one of the 106's to buy while I was assembling them today. We might have to move into a bigger apartment so we have room for us if I keep buying the bells I make.

I had never made the 106's before and they tend to be a problem bell even for people that have worked in the foundry for years. So I had to photograph my beginner's luck:


This is the one I'm buying:


There are more at the end of the Foundry 2007 photo set. The 110's I made today weren't quite as clean. I'll see what they look like after they have been cleaned up on the wire wheel tomorrow. Might be buying one of those as well.... Good thing I get paid to do this so I can spend it all buying my own stuff.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Whoopi vs. Sharpton

Whoopie calls for Al Sharpton to apologize to the Duke lacrosse players wrongly accused of rape and, as Whoopie says, went through hell as a result. Unsurprisingly, Al says he has no reason to apologize, never took a position, etc. Unfortunately for Al (and fortunately for the public) we have this little thing called the internet. A Google search of '"al sharpton" "duke lacrosse"' gives this little tidbit as the first hit. I'm sure if I wanted to waste my time, I could dig out a lot more, but everyone already knows that Al Sharpton is nothing but a lying, racist demagogue.

The Wheel Turns

It seems Cory Doctorow is getting a little lesson in karma. Couldn't happen to a bigger ass... er... I mean "nicer guy."

Blast from the Past

We subscribe to a service that tracks visitors to our site. (Yes, we know who you are and where you live. Mwahahahah!!) Part of that service is to show us the search strings that people type into Google or Yahoo that leads them to our site. For the last few months some version of "dog's prayer to daddy" keeps showing up. I finally typed that into Google and this is the first hit that comes up. I'd forgotten all about that. Still funny.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Still Kickin'

Not sure what we've been so busy doing that neither of us have managed to post anything for a week. This is going to be another one of those trash can posts, so hang on.

First, sorry for the Google spam to everyone associated with this blog. Google seems to have tightened up their password requirements since my last log in. I was still logged in from the last time I did something here or on Google Docs or whatever and had not logged out. To make a long story short, I couldn't log in, couldn't even log out. I was stuck in this eternal hell of typing my password over and over and getting nowhere. A password reset (which for some stupid reason sends an e-mail to all contributors to this blog) and a reboot seems to have fixed everything. I guess that will teach me to say anything nice about Google again....

Debbie made it back from Hawaii and the photos are all here.

We also spent last Saturday wandering around Jerome, an old mining town a bit north of here that has become a artist colony and tourist trap of sorts. It is built on the side of a mountain, so it would be more appropriate to say that we walked up and down rather than around Jerome. Every first Saturday of the month, they have what they call an "Art Walk" which is just some of the local galleries staying open until 8pm with snacks and drinks and a shuttle service to haul people around. As you can probably guess from the pictures, there isn't a lot of parking in Jerome, but of course it was far worse than normal Saturday due to some sort of biker convention in Cottonwood. The place was completely overrun with with Harley's. Naturally. So we parked at the old high school, which was turned into art spaces when the school system was consolidated with one of the neighboring towns. We walked up to town, which was only a quarter mile or so, but involved several hundred feet of vertical climb and several crossings of a very narrow, twisty road overrun with bikers driving just slightly over the posted 15 mph speed limit. (This is a picture of the high school about 2/3 the way up.) So after about five seconds of discussion, we decided that we were not walking back down in the dark and grabbed a shuttle. We got in and started chatting with the driver and other passenger. The third passenger not only knew about Arcosanti, but had worked on a film crew here that shot the worst movie ever made. (Seriously; it's so bad you can't even MST3K it.) So the ride back down to the high school was like old home week.

I'm still hacking away at making bells in the foundry. I haven't done any new bells in a while, just replays of the same ones I've done before. I keep experimenting with new tools and designs, so I'm still melting more bells than I should be, but at least I'm learning something along the way. Debbie is still building up a client list at AAA. She thought that she would get some bonus commission this month, but because her twelve-month rolling average was a few hundred bucks short, she got nothing. Disappointing to say the least.

Well, Debbie is home with the laundry and dinner is done, so I gotta go.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I've Sold My Soul... Google. I've moved all our documents to Google Docs and Spreadsheets. I use only Google Search. I have a Google homepage. This site in on Blogger, which is owned by Google. When Google Archive comes on-line, I will be all over that as an off-site backup solution. And today, I started setting up Google Alerts to keep me up-to-date on the world. Right now I just have some very basic ones for Alden, Prescott, specific space stuff, etc. They are way too broad and I need to do some research on how to narrow things down. But eventually, these will replace the handful of links in the News section of the links over on the right.

Now, theoretically, Google sifts through all that flotsam and sells my personal information to advertisers to pay for all these great services. I'm not sure what the glean from my college papers and the fact that I'm interested in the Mars rovers, but anything I get hit with will be mild compared to the endless offers of free Gateway laptops and pills to "grow your member up to 3" a day!!!!!" cluttering up my inbox, and the sixteen credit card offers a day stuffing my mailbox.

Go Google!!

It's All Relative

Funniest thing I've heard in the foundry:

The manager has been training one of the foundry employees (not me) to run the furnace. It's not very sophisticated; just a quarter-turn valve to regulate the propane and a big blower on an on-off switch, so running it means a lot "going by feel" to get the bronze the correct temperature for a pour (2100-2200 F). Anyway, he was checking up on his "pupil" by looking at the bronze in the furnace (you can judge the approximate temperature by appearance) and comments, "It looks a little chilly."

Now maybe on the surface of the sun, you can describe 1700 or 1800 degrees as "chilly," but on earth, even in the context of the foundry, that just cracked me up.

OK, I just went back and read through this post and decided that I'm just easily amused.

Speaking of the foundry, I've been doing a lot of non-bell activity lately (drilling, grinding, assembling, making fins, etc.). Today I got back into molding bells (102's again) and some came out pretty good. I'm still getting a lot of holes in my bells and uneven thickness, which means I'm not getting the two halves of the mold lined up perfectly when I set up for a pour. I need to work on that. But at least I'm building up a big enough repertoire of designs that I can make a couple dozen bells and not have to repeat.


I am so glad to be out of the cube farm. This is so close to some of what goes on, it almost isn't funny:

As usual, click on the comic to view a readable version.