Archive for the 'Rant' Category

Why dual screens are still fail in Linux

Dual screen support is made of fail on Linux. In this post, you will learn why. I reference Ubuntu 9.04, but it applies to other distributions also. It is my hope that by documenting some of the problems, I will add intangible weight to the issue and make whoever fixes it feel good about their work.

Let’s walk through setup, shall we? First, you are required to log out after initially adding a second monitor to the system. I understand why this is, but it’s lame. I hoped that Ubuntu 9.04 would have had some magic way of fixing this. Apparently not.

Now, suppose the user is actually using the secondary monitor which has a smaller vertical resolution . One very nice feature of many window managers is edge resistance — when a window is close to the edge of the screen, it will sort of cling to the edge a little. This is usually what the user wants. As it currently stands, this is broken. The screen is treated as a big rectangle with smaller rectangular views overlayed on top of it — the monitors. The edges windows resist are on the big rectangle, not the smaller ones. This means that an edge on the smaller secondary monitor will not have resistance. This is inconsistent with the larger monitor, which is bad.

Finally, let us think about laptops. A large number of dual screen users are also laptop users, because laptops don’t usually have very big screens, and because pretty much all laptops (even low end ones) support dual screens. Laptops, being as portable as they are, have a tendency to be used in multiple locations. Some of these locations might have dual screens; some might not. When you leave a location which has dual screens, your first inclination is to unplug the second screen. Unfortunately, any windows which were visible on the second screen are now not visible at all. They now exist in a magic imaginary space off to the side of your primary screen. If you put the laptop into a power-saving mode like sleep or hibernate before pulling the second monitor out, you will have the same problem. The only solution is to end your session by shutting down the computer or restarting X11.

Advanced users will overcome this quirk by either moving all their windows off the secondary screen before unplugging it, or holding down a meta key and making blind grabs into the void in hopes of fishing out a desired window. Meanwhile, Microsoft Windows handles this issue easily. It simply moves all the windows that were on the secondary screen onto the primary screen. Why can’t X, xrandr, or the window manager do that?


Why I hate online stores which are not Amazon

So, I’m trying to buy access to MyTechCommKit, an online service required for one of my classes this semester. The typical process for this sort of thing usually involves going to a secure web page (yay HTTPS), entering some payment and billing info, and checking email every ten seconds for a an automated confirmation.

Unfortunately, online stores hate me. The feeling is mural (although I make special exceptions for NewEgg and Amazon, for reasons which will become clear presently). When the time came for me to enter my credit card verification number, authentication failed. Which was OK; because my card was on the verge of expiring and I just got an updated card yesterday with a different security code. The system must not have updated for the new card. Merely trying the old code should work. Except that it doesn’t.

The priority of the issue suddenly jumped several levels on my internal bug tracker. This is An Issue.

I tried to contact support. For some reason, they decided that it was way too hard to maintain an 800 number, so they have live chat instead. Cheapskates. I spent several minutes figuring out how to classify my issue in their arbitrary category system, entered my name and contact info, double checked the hours of operation, and hit “Chat.” A window appeared, the chat interface popped up… and then it all closed again. A message informed me that my chat had been disconnected. Well, that’s just wonderful. I love you too, impersonal buggy javascript application.

Look, if you’re going to have a system which will randomly fail, either by your fault, your customer’s, or some random middle man, it’s good to have a backup. Like, a real person for your customer to sort things out with. Perhaps a phone number someplace? It really feels like you don’t want to talk to me and/or don’t care that I want to give you money. Work that out, ok?

I remain unimpressed with ZoneAlarm

Aforementioned “free as in my time” ZoneAlarm firewall was installed upon almost every Windows computer in the house, up until this evening. This evening, it randomly decided that it would be a really great idea to block all traffic to and from port 80. Since the free version of this product does not let you configure individual ports (a grevious inconvenance at junctures such as this), I was left with no option but to replace it.

Of course, this doesn’t actually affect me in any way except that I’m de-facto home tech support because people in the house become unhappy and suspicious when I’m the only one with functional internet access. It couldn’t be because I’m running Linux and never actually have to deal with all this ZoneAlarm nonsense, could it?

Get your act together, Zone Labs.

Summer Day Two: slow decent into madness

Woah, so this is what sleep is like. *ahem*

Everything is all over the place in room. Most of my textbooks are about a fraction of a centimeter too tall to fit anywhere in my bookcases neatly. Random books I never use, various burned CD-Rs, and paper scrap litter various elevated surfaces; this is partially due to my philosophy that the easiest way to clean up a book case is to take everything off it, then put everything back on. The other part is due to the current complete lack of floor space. >_<

Summer of Code marches on! Except not. The new router I set up for family which seemed to work so nicely over Christmas break now seems barely capable of transmitting a signal which I can receive consistently. I get disconnected from our home network and reconnected to our neighbor’s stupid “linksys” signal every ten to thirty minutes. And just forget about it if someone is using the cordless phone or the microwave. A reconnect every ten to thirty minutes doesn’t seem too bad- and I keep telling myself this. And [sic, don’t care] it woulden’t be, if I didn’t happen to be conversing with someone about how to fix it, or downloading an eclipse update, or something of that nature every time it happened.

Seriously! NetworkManager is driving me crazy. Why on earth can’t I easily blacklist this “linksys” network? It’s freaking weak, weaker than the signal I want to stay connected to. Wicd won’t connect to my network at all. It’s really rather messy. To compound the frustration, the wifi tool in XP seems to have a slightly longer timeout that NM, so I can stay connected in Windows but not Linux. The irony!

Also ironic: the IDE situation on Linux, which is usually my development platform of choice. I installed Arch Linux half way through this past semester because of issues with Ubuntu, and I’ve been absurdly busy since then. Thus, I’ve just been using Gedit and a terminal window with gcc, guile, or whatever compiler/interpreter the situation called for. No sense mucking around with a full fledged IDE for 200 line homework assignments. However, AbiWord has a lot of code. This is by far the most complex project I’ve worked on.

So, after getting thoroughly overwhelmed (and reminding myself that this was the planning/research phase and I didn’t have to start coding in earnest for another three weeks), I decided to take Eclipse for another spin. Problem: it won’t spin. After figuring out how Subclipse worked and getting things syncing off the AbiWord SVN, my wifi connection died, taking Eclipse with it mid-checkout. Now Eclipse freezes on the loading splash screen.

In between the lack of IDE and lack of stable internet connection, I’m getting pretty frustrated. So, I need a plan.

  • Teh Internets
    • Construct a Pringles ™ antenna, slap it on the router and point it in the general direction of my laptop.
    • (Plan B) Install OpenWRT (or something similar) on the WRT54G router, then pump up the transmitting power. Pray that the router doesn’t overheat, the FCC doesn’t show up at my door, and that the router doesn’t brick. Any of these are bad as they mean potentially making the internet situation worse. Gah!
  • Eclipse (Ideally, after fixing the wifi situation. It’s hard download packages and/or to flame people on IRC when one’s connection drops every other thing.)
    • Visit #archlinux. Complain. Get connection dropped. Be ignored by everyone. (Accomplished)
    • Run Eclipse and get some sort of terminal output. There must be a console debug argument or log or something somewhere.
    • If Eclipse won’t run at all, I’ll fall back upon the “pencil and paper” approach and try drawing out the relationship between things. You laugh, but it’s worked before.
  • General Sanity
    • Unpack from school and get boxen out of room.
    • Find mouse. Battling my laptop’s touchpad is not aiding my mood.
    • Unruly mob! Unruly mob!
    • Get something done on AbiWord. Seriously.

That said, I’ve got quite enough to keep me busy right now. Over and out.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl First Impression

Also, as long as I’m procrastinating, might as well post this too. It’s only like a week or two late.

  • Diddy Kong is a lot of fun. I was surprised as how fun and balanced a character he was.
  • But Sonic the Hedgehog is definitely my favorite character.
  • Moves are way easier to pull off. Love chaining combos in midair? So much easier now.
  • Way more floaty. Wee!
  • Because there’s a lot more airtime, there’s a lot more focus on combat in the Y-axis. Sonic’s down stomping attack is used a lot.
  • Sonic is now the fastest character. However, he doesn’t really move all that fast compared to the characters in Melee. Thus, everyone moves more slowly.
  • The nerf bat hath smiteth Link, my previous main. He feels a lot less visceral than in Melee. Part of might be the animation cycles; in Meele it was totally possible to pull off two or three spins in a row on DK. Now, not so much. Things feel slower and smoother.
  • SOOO much more of an emphasis on items. I have no problems with items normally, and Nintendo hit the sweet spot with the defaults in Melee. Now it just feels like too much.We’re talking like five smash balls in a single round, and two or three insane ships of doom, split into three pieces which everyone battles like crazy over. Yeah. When you play with items (he said, abusing italics), you fight for items. There are now at least five or six items of power equal to or greater than the stupid hammer. And they spawn all over the place! Seriously, it’s completely insane.
  • However, you can turn it all down and/or off, so I’m not complaining too much.

The “Ubuntu Upgrade Process” Compared Unfavorably Against “A Pile of Trash”

Dear Ubuntu,

I am mad and ranting. This is flamebait because it’s been a major problem every single Ubuntu release since I got involved four versions ago. Four freaking versions! That’s two years.

A little over one year ago, I was using Ubuntu 6.06. It was a good release, and it served me well. Then I tried to upgrade to version 6.10, and it was the worst upgrade I have ever done in my entire life. The IRC channels were flooded with people who said their systems were broken, mine included. Based on what I was told, the fact I had once used an early version of Automatix to install the fglrx 3D acceleration drivers had somehow made significant changes to my machine that lurked deep within the system, waiting to resurface and bite my head off when I upgrade. In retrospect, this was BS. There were a lot of things gone wrong with the upgrade that Automatix had absolutely nothing to do with.
I ended up reverting to 6.06 until 7.04 came out, when I backed everything up and did a clean install. This is what was have been using up until about noon today.

At noon, I made the decision that I had waited long enough, and the time had come to check out 7.10. After all, two months after release, the upgrade should be a smooth process, right? This was a horrible, horrible mistake. First, I needed to download 1.1 gigs of packages. This took three hours. Then, they were installed. This ran until 9pm.
Yes, I repeat, this was a nine hour upgrade. During this period, I was instructed not to use any programs because of “data loss.”

Oh, but it’s not an unattended upgrade either. Periodically, a dialog box would appear asking if I wanted to replace X configuration file I didn’t know existed with Y configuration file provided by the new package. While this box was on the screen, the entire upgrade would grind to a halt. There were like six of these things, spaced about 45 minutes apart. What the heck? In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is bad design. This is disrespectful to the user. This is stupid.

Right, so the install finally completes. I reboot, to be greeted with a blank black screen. This blank screen stayed for a very long time (blinking occasionally) until the login box appeared. I decided to chalk up the long boot time to first boot and the blank screen to… a bug or whatever.

I logged into Gnome. There was an absurdly long login period, which I also attributed to first run. My processor indicator instantly shoots up to 100%. The system becomes sluggish and unresponsive. Apparently that nifty new “Tracker Desktop Search” tool is preset to begin indexing aggressively the first time an existing user logs in. I kill the process.

My mouse and windows are still sluggish. Running glxinfo reveals that my previously working fglrx drivers no longer are providing 3D acceleration. A popup message randomly appears in the center of the desktop telling me that non-free drivers are available for my hardware. It appears that it has clipped off the edge of the taskbar and taken it with it. I click it and it vanishes. Nothing happens. I eventually locate the icon in the tray that the bubble was supposed to be attached to. I double click it and it vanishes. Nothing happens. I go to the restricted drivers control panel and discover that the alert was for my unused dial-up modem; fglrx is indeed enabled. Great.

I try unchecking and rechecking it my double clicking. The desktop disappears and I am presented with the login screen. I log in again. Very long wait again. I decide to get online to find out how to fix the graphics drivers. The upgrade has uninstalled my wifi program of choice, Wicd, so I try to use the network control panel manually. Nothing happens. I try to change the essid of the network to a nonexistant network. Whoops, didn’t like that. Now I can’t get the control panel to come up at all.

Before Wicd, I used NetworkManager. It used to be buggy and not able to connect to hidden WEP networks. I’ve updated the network since than to a hidden WAP network. It connects! Yay! I’m connected to the internet! Suddenly, almost all the plugins on my taskbar all crash at the same time. Then my mouse freezes. Then the screen goes black. I wait for three minutes. Nothing happens. I’ve had better experiences with Windows ME.

At this point, I’ve wasted like thirty minutes messing with the stupid thing, in addition to the nine hour upgrade where I was hovering nearby checking every 15 minutes for “Replace configuration file?” dialogs.

This is completely unacceptable. You know what, I’m not even gonna bother anymore. I’ll just back up my recent data, wipe the entire thing, and start from scratch. It’ll take two hours, tops. Am I overreacting? No. You just wasted my day.

The Ubuntu upgrade process is junk. I’ve never had a Debian or Windows upgrade that ended as horribly as either of the times I’ve used the Ubuntu major version updater. Windows is trash. QED: The Ubuntu upgrade process performs worse than a pile of trash.

Targeted marketing surveys?

Ok, this is somewhat scary.


I didn’t even think about the poll until after I’d clicked an option. Should I be worried that “they” know enough about me purely from information gathered autonomously to ask if I liked a spiritual sequel to KOTOR or a game about parkour better? Both of which titles I eagerly anticipate playing within the next five years? I don’t even think I’m in a gaming group. Well, maybe I am. Crap, I’m in like five of them.

I generate information for humans, not robots. I really wish Facebook had a robots.txt option.

But seriously. I answered the poll. That’s even worse! They have extracted more information from me! Soon they will derive vital information from my preference, like my secret plans to have a finger removed in order to insert an assassination blade. Airport security will start stopping everyone with four fingers and then where will I be? Not en route to stabbing evil Facebook scrubbing bots, that’s where.

In other, tangentially related, information, Nineteen Eighty-Four recently landed on my Christmas reading list. Stuff that in your hat and eat it, robot!

p.s. What happened to the last one percent, I wonder? Dead, most likely. Sad.

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