Blog - Unity Behind Diversity

Searching for beauty in the dissonance

Tagged: gnu/linux

HOWTO: Thinkpad scroll button in Ubuntu 8.10

Overall, I’ve been pretty happy after upgrading to Ubuntu 8.10, but there were a few annoyances. I noticed my Thinkpad scroll buttons stopped working, and when I checked xorg.conf, all my changes were commented out with a note “HAL is now used.” At least wasn’t too hard to figure out how to configure it through HAL.

  1. Create a new file mouse-wheel.fdi at /etc/hal/fdi/policy : sudo gedit /etc/hal/fdi/policy/mouse-wheel.fdi
  2. Add the following lines to the file:
    <match key="info.product" string="TPPS/2 IBM TrackPoint">
    <merge key="input.x11_options.EmulateWheel" type="string">true</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.EmulateWheelButton" type="string">2</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.YAxsisMapping" type="string">4 5</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.XAxsisMapping" type="string">6 7</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.ZAxsisMapping" type="string">4 5</merge>
    <merge key="input.x11_options.Emulate3Buttons" type="string">true</merge>
  3. Restart and it should all be working.

Now to get my ThinkVantage button working again… *sigh* Update: fixed.

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Ubuntu Christian Edition: Don’t surf the web, walk on it

I found this a while back and it’s pretty old, but I just came across it again recently and had a good laugh. There’s an unofficial Ubuntu distribution called Ubuntu Christian Edition and this blog has a ton of hilarious[ly nerdy] “facts” about it, for example…

  • In Ubuntu Christian Edition, all documents are saved by grace through faith
  • With Ubuntu Christian Edition, you don’t need to surf the web — you can walk on it
  • For 40 days before Easter, Ubuntu Christian Edition works in text mode only
  • Ubuntu Christian Edition has the confess command that deletes your logs and caches
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sox soxio: Failed reading : unknown file type

I began receiving this error in Ubuntu (after upgrading to Hardy 8.04 I think) whenever I tried to use the sox or play commands. Turns out the solution is pretty simple, sox had just lost its available format libraries.

sudo apt-get install libsox-fmt-all

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Getting Hydrogen to work with JACK in Ubuntu Studio

I recently stumbled upon the Ubustu Feed when I began learning Ardour. They have a great tutorial on how to sync Hydrogen with Ardour:

This tutorial will show you how to sync up the digital audio workstation, Ardour, and the advanced drum machine, Hydrogen. This will allow you to have a full featured drum machine playing in perfect time with your Ardour session. Or, one hell of a fancy click track.

I ran into one complication on my system though — getting Hydrogen to work with JACK. The output sockets just weren’t showing up when I opened Hydrogen, even though JACK was running and working fine. Thanks to a post by schivmeister in the Hydrogen Forum, I was able to get it working by changing ‘alsa_pcm’ to ‘system’ in the JACK portion of the ~/.hydrogen/hydrogen.conf file so that it reads as follows:


Best. Metronome. Ever.

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Canonical’s schizophrenia about FOSS

Last month, George Farris began a thread on the Ubuntu-devel-discuss mailing list questioning the license choice of Ubuntu training material. The training manuals are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, which is non-free because it doesn’t allow commercial use. George asks, “why on earth would you not allow educational institutions to use this material in classes?” Billy Cina from Canonical responded:

The purpose of the license is to prevent the material being used for profit-seeking purposes. If you (or anyone else) is from a not-for-profit institution or running community classes etc., then this material is 100% intended for that. Charging students minimal fees to cover expenses is also ok.

The problem is that isn’t true. Neal McBurnett highlights the huge legal gray area surrounding the non-commercial clause. When George brings up a practical example of using the manual to offer a course on Ubuntu and charging a student fee ($50-$199.00), Billy confirms the problem: “Non-profit are key words. $50 – $199.00 sounds like profit seeking to me.”

Scott Kitterman retorted that “if this were packaged for inclusion in Ubuntu it would have to go into Multiverse because it does not carry a free license.” I added that there are other free licenses available which are better suited for documentation and inline with the Ubuntu philosophy and the philosophies of free software and open source software communities: CC BY, CC BY-SA, GNU Free Documentation License.

Billy Cina provided an unfortunately empty corporate response:

Ubuntu is a free distribution and will always continue to be free. However, this does not mean that every service provided to support Ubuntu or its further expansion must also be free. Both the Ubuntu community and Canonical have invested a lot of time and money in developing this course, it is therefore reasonable for: a. the community to be able to use the material (freely) to further spread the work of Ubuntu and grow the user base, and b. for Canonical to determine who should be seeking a profit out of its investment.

The problem is… well, the whole statement.

Billy muddles the two meanings of the word free. No one expects that every service provided to support Ubuntu will be provided at no cost, but one does expect Canonical to have a more consistent respect for the freedom central to the open source software it provides. Using a non-free license by choice seems inconsistent with Canonical’s stated mission of “facilitating the continued growth and development of the free software community” since it’s inconsistent with the community’s beliefs and restricts its development.

More importantly, the community isn’t able to use to the work freely. Community members are in a legal gray area, at best, if they want to be compensated for any time and money they spend on training if they make use of these materials because of the non-commercial clause. Nevermind the implications for business users in the community.

Yes, Canonical has the legal right to make this decision. But Canonical (and the community) would benefit from some consistency in their commitment to free software and free culture. If everyone in the free software world believed it was reasonable “to determine who should be seeking a profit out of [their] investment[s],” Canonical wouldn’t have a distribution.

Scott Kitterman says:

The exact same argument applies equally well to the Ubuntu distribution. I don’t see how it’s somehow better for documentation that the community contributed to than for the distribution.

Personally, I don’t expect there’s much more point in discussing this as this seems to me to be typical of Canonical’s schizophrenia about FOSS.

The non-commercial clause is counter-productive. It severely limits the use of the materials, when such use would only further the adoption of Ubuntu and by extension a demand for Canonical’s services.

If I were a small business considering Canonical’s distribution, I’d be concerned that Canonical thinks it ought to control profit-seeking within its community.

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Encoding to Ogg Vorbis using a GStreamer pipeline – vorbisenc plugin quality property

I’ve been eager to transition my music library from the proprietary patent-ridden MP3 format to Ogg Vorbis, and since my iPod died a few months back, I’ve decided to make the move. I’ve read up on Ogg Vorbis and learned that it’s best to re-rip my CDs, since converting from one compressed audio format to another is a bad idea.

In Ubuntu 8.04, I tried using Rhythmbox and Sound Juicer to rip my CDs. They both use the same settings, making use of a GStreamer pipeline, and I encountered a problem with the quality setting. The Vorbis format uses a quality setting of -1 to 10, instead of measuring quality by bitrate. I wanted to use a Vorbis quality setting of 6. I went to Edit -> Preferences and clicked “Edit” under the “Format” heading. I selected “CD Quality, Lossy” (Ogg Vorbis) and the GStreamer pipeline read:
audio/x-raw-float,rate=44100,channels=2 ! vorbisenc name=enc quality=0.5 ! oggmux

0.5 seemed ridiculously low, so I changed it to 6. Which didn’t work. I googled around, sifted through man pages, baffled at what this quality setting should be set at… didn’t it use the standard Vorbis quality scale? It did, but in a stupid way.

Eventually, I went in search of the Gstreamer documentation, and found this description of the quality property for the vorbisenc plugin:

Specify quality instead of specifying a particular bitrate.

Allowed values: [-0.1,1]

Default value: 0.3

Who decided to make the scale one tenth of the actual standard? *sigh* Ah well, now I know how to use it and it’s working wonderfully! Here’s my new pipeline:
audio/x-raw-float,rate=44100,channels=2 ! vorbisenc name=enc quality=0.6 ! oggmux

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Fixing slide show slowdowns in Impress

My mom (who runs Ubuntu 7.10) was having trouble with old PowerPoint presentations in Impress. Her machine would grind to a halt in presentation mode and she was forced to export the presentations as PDFs in order to deliver them.

I investigated the issues and found some help in this thread. A user, Galva, had suggested making these tweaks under Tools->Options in

MEMORY – 30 steps, 128MB, 20 objects, 20MB per object, and remove after an hour
JAVA – Do not use Java
VIEW – Open GL, optimized output, dithering, refresh during interaction and hardware acceleration all ticked.

I had already made those changes to memory and the java runtime environment, but the view settings made a huge difference. The presentations actually run now! Thanks, Galva!

Coincidently, I was checking out the new Ubuntu brainstorm and decided to submit an idea — to optimize the default settings. I find I always make these tweaks on a new install. Unless there’s a really good reason why the settings are the way they are, they ought to be changed. It’s actually third in the office category now! If these tweaks helped you, consider voting for the idea on brainstorm.

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ThinkPad T61 waking up from sleep in Ubuntu 7.10

I have a ThinkPad T61 (646562U – with Intel GM965 integrated graphics) and I run Ubuntu 7.10 as my main operating system. When I wake from a suspend, my screen is too dark to use. I figured my laptop, which is relatively new, isn’t supported properly yet and just refrained from using the suspend function.

However, I discovered a workaround a few weeks back while reading this review!

The problem that remained is that after it wakes up from sleep mode, the LCD screen is very dark and I’m able to regulate it, unless I… switch to the terminal (CTRL+ALT+F1) and switch back to GUI (CTRL+ALT+F7).

Obviously, it would be nice it was working properly, but this hack is quite simple and effective and does the trick in the meantime.

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AbiWord: spell checking in Fluxbuntu, save as another file format by default

I’ve been setting up a few old ThinkPads (a 240 and an iSeries model from the same era) with Fluxbuntu to give them new life and replace the ever aging and useless Windows 98 they were running. I looked into Damn Small Linux and other such distributions optimized for minimal performance, but I found that some of them were not really suitable as a desktop distribution. Fluxbuntu, on the other hand, has a beautiful theme, is easy to use and gives you access to the Ubuntu repositories.

One of the machines is for a novice computer user, so I’ve made a few changes. Kazehakase – the default browser – seems to have some sort of bug that cancels out the speed improvements it’s supposed to deliver, so I switched to Firefox (which the user is already familiar with). I also changed the ‘Editor’ icon on the desktop to open AbiWord, instead of the Leafpad text editor.

AbiWord needed some setup to get the spell check working. First of all, I had to install the aspell dictionary. I found out how to do that using this tutorial:
sudo apt-get install aspell-en

Then, I wanted to set the default language to Canadian English, as opposed to US English. To do that, I found out I had to modify the language attribute in two places in the default AbiWord document template.

  1. Open up /usr/share/AbiSuite-2.4/templates/normal.awt in your favourite text editor
  2. Change ‘en-US’ to the language of your choice (in my case, ‘en-CA’). Note that you need to change this in two places!

Lastly, this user doesn’t need to deal with multiple file formats. Even a more experienced user might wish to change the default file format. AbiWord doesn’t offer a way to do this through the GUI, but you can modify your AbiWord.Profile file to do this. I’d recommend Open Document (.odt) over Microsoft Word (.doc), but I found these instructions for changing the default file format.

  1. Open ~/.AbiSuite/AbiWord.Profile in your favourite text editor
  2. Add an attribute to the second Scheme tag: DefaultSaveFormat=".odt" (or whatever extension you prefer)

Hope that helps!

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MPAA University toolkit for combatting “piracy” violates copyright laws

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently released software which it urged some of America’s largest universities to employ in order to monitor their networks for unauthorized file sharing. Not only do the universities not owe the MPAA anything, but the toolkit was found by security specialists to raise some major privacy concerns. Steve Worona, director of policy and networking programs at EDUCAUSE, says of the toolkit, “no university network administrator in their right mind would install this toolkit on their networks.”

More interestingly though, the software in question was based on Ubuntu variant Xubuntu and also made use of the Apache web server. There’s enough irony in the use of free and open source software to enforce draconian copyright laws already, but apparently the MPAA was in violation of the GNU GPL, the license the majority of the software is released under, by not making the source code available. Matthew Garrett from the Ubuntu technical board contacted the organization about their violation of copyright which resulted in a removal of the toolkit from the MPAA’s website. It will likely be up again soon once they sort things out, but this episode is both ironic and embarrassing for the MPAA. Calls for stricter copyright begin to sound hypocritical when the MPAA fails to respect other copyright holders’ rights.

Oh, and apparently this isn’t the first time the MPAA has done this sort of thing. And aside from violating copyright, they may also be in violation of Ubuntu’s trademark.

I really hope they’re embarrassed, but I’m not holding my breath.

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