How to dismantle a Verbatim 3.5'' SmartDrive

WARNING: This will void your drive's warranty.
Most external drive cases are absolutely self-explanatory, this one is a bit scary (too many plastic notches and bendable stuff). If you've still got a choice, better get a completely unscrewable one like the Western Digital model with the silicone covers.
You need: a small Phillips screwdriver and a spudger or Mum's nail file. The drive inside is SATA (in my case, a Samsung HD103SI).


Frescobaldi opening Kile

Today frescobaldi surprised me by opening source code references from PDF annotations in Kile. Hey, I love Kile! Still, not very practical.
Solution: open an external instance of Okular, go to Settings->Configure Okular…->Editor, choose Custom Text Editor instead of Kile (the command should read frescobaldi --smart --line %l --column %c), apply, restart frescobaldi and you should be good to go again. Apart from the fact that now your LaTeX source code annotations will be opened in frescobaldi…


Copying calendar and contacts from Kontact to an iPod with the proper encoding

Copying your personal data to an iPod is surprisingly easy:
Calendar: export your calendar as an iCal file (File->Export…) and copy it to the Calendars directory on your mounted iPod (e.g. /media/MYIPOD/Calendars)
Address book: File->Export->Export vCard…, take care to export your contact list to several files. Copy to the Contacts directory on your iPod.
It's getting a bit trickier if you have special characters in your files, as these have to be converted from Kontact's UTF-8 to the iPod's ISO_8859-15 encoding. Recoding can be done by iconv with a shell script. Run from the directory where vCards and calendar have been exported to:


ATI woes

I had a go at installing SuSE 11.2 on Xanthippe, my slightly mercurial desktop computer (Athlon 64bit, ATI graphics, Atheros WLAN chip). The 11.0 kernel kept warring with the WLAN chip, so it was time for an upgrade.
After a normal install, the system claimed to have no working graphics during the configuration reboot (c'mon, it's only an elderly Radeon X1300) and started the console YaST.


Amarok: Again the album art issue

Amarok doesn't handle album art well for me. They can't help some of the main issues: Amazon's API restrictions have forced the developers to switch to last.fm for automatic cover fetching, which apparently is not implemented in v2.2.0 yet. Additionally, for classically minded listeners like me it's generally difficult to get the matching cover without manual intervention (sorting out composers, artists, correct album title).
It doesn't get easier if you want to synchronise an iPod or similar and need to merge collections from different sources.


It sort of works

First impressions of 11.2
The first one is purely aesthetical: the SuSE 11.2 installer looks like a gothicised version of Win 7's cutesy scrollwork, in a blackish-green colour scheme and without all those birdies.
The setup procedure (64-bit) was not noticeably different from 11.1: in partitioning, I fared best with importing the previous installation's partitioning and setting the root partition to be formatted to ext4 after that.


More fun with Kernel Panic

After an update session sometimes ago (and yes, I didn't need the computer for quite a while, that's why I can't really tell you the cause). I experienced a persistent fault: "Could not find /dev/disk/by-id/blablabla-part2 - Would you like to fall back on /dev/disk/by-id/blablablabla-part2 (Y/n)?"
Regardless of the answer Medea went to everlasting sleep, um, well, till the reset button was pressed.


Yay! Kernel panic!

It's really no reason to rejoice.
On Archimedes (a meticulously preserved SuSE 10.3) the Virtual Box update seemed to have trouble with the fact that there were apparently three kernel versions installed (no idea how they got there), so I decided to get rid of two of them with YaST. And so the catastrophe began…


openSuSE 11.1 on an Apple MacBook Pro

Meet polyhymnia, my new Apple MacBook Pro 13'' with standard processor and 2 GB RAM. For convenience, the first thing I did was exchanging the 160 GB harddrive against a 500 GB one. While installing MacOS X I already left 60 GB free for an openSuSE installation. If you want to install openSuSE as well and didn't do that, follow the hints on OpenSUSE.org.


Crackling USB sound card

Short note: My laptop's new USB sound card made annoying crackling noises at high CPU load (simple check: swipe mouse over buttons in task bar with full plasma desktop effects :-) ) . Apparently this is due to the USB bus not supplying enough power, because I got rid of this by using an externally powered hub.
Hm. Simple solution, but dire consequences: lugging around a fat hub and its power supply? Or get a Y adaptor (like this one) and let it block two of my precious USB ports? Not amused.


Oh, those sneaky Apple people…

…still trying valiantly to keep us from procrastinating. Apparently they now deny apple.com/trailers access to all non-Quicktime users, which is more or less the Linux community. Hey, and I always thought we stood all united against Microsoft.
Several workarounds have been proposed.


DigiKam woes

Archimedes reproducibly failed to connect to my digital camera with digiKam, with the following message:
'Failed to connect to the camera. Please make sure it is connected properly and turned on. Would you like to try again?'
Root access worked.
The omniscient Google came up with two answers:


My USB soundcard did not want to play mp3s

As Tisiphone's line out jack is pretty worn out, I bought a cheap C-Media USB soundcard to finally get stereo sound again. It's quite plug-and-play, the channels showed in KMix without me having to change any settings, but the damn thing refused to play mp3s.
It turned out to be Phonon's fault, and it's actually a pretty cool feature.


Plasma can be hungry... kill the widgets!

Some days ago, after I had played around with some plasma widgets, I recognized Medea (AMD Athlon 2000+) becoming very slow and not very responsive after about 20 minutes of operation. Good old console "top" yielded that plasma was eating up CPU time up to 80% and was consuming a lot of memory. Short googleing didn't find any really helpful results, although the problem seems to appear at least for some users.

I was too lazy to sort out what was causing the problem, but deactivating all widgets I had started (calendar, clock and the analogon to knotes) solved the problem and my computer runs nicely again.

For the interested guys: openSuSE 11.1, KDE 4.2


Tu quoque, Python?

Ah, well, it's nothing compared to certain Excel bugs


Texlive 2007 and inkscape 0.46 on openSuSE 10.3

I hadn't thought this would be a problem, but I fiddled quite a while with inkscape's and texlive's alternating complaints about missing poppler libraries.
Poppler is a pdf rendering library (xpdf fork), of which texlive 2007 needs version 1 (provided by the poppler package), while inkscape 0.46 (yes, the new version with built-in pdf import) needs libpoppler2. For some reason YaST apparently deleted one of them :-(
Well, I learnt quite a bit about library linking conventions.
Altogether, it has to be some problem of the expiring support for SuSE 10.3; texlive 2008 probably already depends on a newer poppler version (cf. the 'PageGroup detected' error, which is fixed by now), but it's packaged only for 11.0 and higher. Still, Archimedes is stuck with 10.3 until I've got my PhD at least - or so I thought.

Switch to KDE 4.3

It's not like the quantum leap from KDE 4.1.3 (shudder…) to 4.2 , but 4.3 is slick and was pretty stable even in β
  • Lots of improvement in Plasma: bundled notifications, hover folder previews, taskbar icons work - and a pretty new theme to boot
  • greatly improved krunner - I love the list view and it's much faster in selecting frequently used programmes
  • KDE PIM works at last - no bloody akonadi crashes every 5 minutes
  • the NetworkManager has been ported
  • revamped system tray
More features in the release announcements.
And it's been out since yesterday! For openSuSE it's still on Factory, though.


Miserable renegade

DaWuzzzz just got himself a MacBook Pro. I am not going to talk to that smug bastard ever again. Expect some posts about how to get openSuSE to run on it ;-)



I am all for eye candy, but the new overshooting compiz cube is maybe a bit too realistic, at least on 3 cups of coffee and an empty stomach.
I looked for a damping factor in CCSM, had to get a new python-gtk on the way (PyGtk 2.12.0 or later required) and at least got something I could live with by turning the acceleration down and the speed up. Not exactly intuitive.


Browseable backups with rdiff-backup and archfs

Note: archfs is now rdiff-backup-fs (see comment below).
In contrast to tools like rsnapshot, which always backs up full versions, rdiff-backup saves only incremental changes in diff files, which takes much less space (and can take a lot of time, too). Because of this it is rather unsuitable for browsing different versions, which is where archfs cuts in.
You need:
  • rdiff-backup (Python script, in main repo)
  • librsync (from repos, or patched sources, see below)
  • Keep (rdiff-backup-frontend, e.g. from the community repos)
  • archfs
  • fuse-devel


More Virtual Box: USB devices

Actually, the last remaining device I need Windows for (apart from the printing issue) is my Sony HI-MD audio recorder. The usual Sony support bullshit: software and standards are closed source, the system is too dated and unpopular for any viable Linux hack (though there are some people in Berlin working on it), and Wine is useless with anything involving a USB connection.

On Kile forgetting shortcuts

The Kile-KDE4 version installed on Archimedes (SuSE 10.3) kept forgetting user-defined shortcuts when restarted. This was a bug, which has been fixed in newer svn versions (like this one).


Change "Open containing folder" in Firefox

In the Firefox downloads dialog, the containing folder is opened in Nautilus, which is a nuisance as well as an eyesore on my nice KDE4 desktop.
Two solutions are proposed on the web.
The first (from Rubylution), more elegant, is to fiddle with the about:config in Firefox by defining 3 new preferences: network.protocol-handler.expose.file = true (Boolean), network.protocol-handler.external.file = true (Boolean) and network.protocol-handler.app.file = konqueror (String). See the link for detailed instructions. Sadly, this had no effect, I still got Nautilus.
By the way, there is no way to delete erroneous preferences from about:config in Firefox, you have to edit ~/.mozilla/firefox/<yourprofile>/prefs.js by hand and restart Firefox.
The second (from hombrepac.com.ar) method stealthily substitutes Nautilus with Konqueror in the KDE mimetype handling. This basically makes Nautilus unusable, which might be a problem if you are an occasional Gnome user.
Well, I'm not - and this time, it worked.
Update: Newer Firefox versions (confirmed with FF 3.6.6) apparently detect KDE's default file manager - anyway, the downloads folder is opened in Konqueror without me having to do anything about it.

Canary Islands?

As mentioned previously, we love blog statistics (right, procrastinating again). And it's nice to see where our visitors come from. Still, the Statcounter algorithm exhibits a geographical recklessness of almost Shakespearean dimensions.
Last time I looked (5 seconds ago, out of my window), Constance University was about here. Close, but no cigar.
Out-of-office notice: Sailing off the Bohemian coast…


Brute force presentation clock

Prerequisites: KDE 4.2, Superkaramba, Acrobat reader.
The idea is to force the relative placement of the Adobe Reader and a Karamba clock widget. This doesn't work with Plasma widgets and the Okular presentation mode, as both seem to override Kwin placement rules (plasma is desktop-integrated anyway).
Get a suitable Karamba clock or countdown widget from kde-look.org (small and preferably with transparency) and put it onto your dektop.
Back up your present window rules:


How to fake footnotes…

…at the bottom of a LaTeX figure page. Not very elegant, but here goes:

\caption{Some really important figure.\protect\footnotemark[1]}
\hspace*{1em}\footnotesize{$^1$Ceci n'est pas une annotation.}

Adjust the number by hand and fiddle with the spacing until it looks like a footnote.


Disable file system check at boot

Just a self-reminder: the file system check at boot can be disabled or tuned with tune2fs. See this blog or man tune2fs for details.
E. g., to disable it completely on the /dev/sdx drive, use sudo tune2fs -c 0 -i 0 /dev/sdx


More fun with Frescobaldi: KDE updates

On Tisiphone, Frescobaldi had a segmentation fault immediately at startup after a KDE 4.3 update; the next update corrected that, luckily (OK, score wizard is still broken, there seem to be major overhauls somewhere). Now the problem has diffused to Archimedes' 10.3 / KDE 4.2 setup, and here it's rather sticky.
Frescobaldi is written in Python, so I tried running frescobaldi.py line-by-line from the build directory. Turns out that the PyKDE4.kdecore module is broken, it kills python as soon as you try importing anything from it. You can't use a different version, because it has to be in sync with your KDE build. I tried building the source RPM, however, it crashed building libakonadipart1.cpp :-(

Hell, I don't even use akonadi on 10.3 because it breaks down anyway...

Update: As of today, (July 6th), the python bindings from the KDE:42 repository seem to work, as well as frescobaldi. Frescobaldi 0.7.13 in combination with KDE 4.3 even displays the score wizard.


Flash not working on some pages?

… e.g. thedailyshow.com or arte.tv (yep, procrastinating again). By now, some pages require Flash 10, while the SuSE repos are stuck on v9. Get the Flash RPM from the Adobe page. Remove flash-plugin in YaST, and install the new one. Flash will still not work in Firefox, because a symlink is missing. Ben Kevan found it:
sudo ln -s /usr/lib/flash-plugin/libflashplayer.so /usr/lib/browser-plugins/libflashplayer.so


Microsoft Research publishes in LaTeX

…as witnessed by this paper (and many more) I found linked on Heise Security.
It's declared a tech report and not published in a specific journal, so I imagine they could have used Word. We have to ask ourselves: are the Microsoft Research employees a bunch of faithless renegades?
I think not - because this is a pretty appalling example of LaTeX layout: A strange mixture of Computer Modern in the document body and Helvetica (?) in the section headings, capitalised headings, crowded pages, orphaned lines, horrendous bad boxes…
If this is an informal pre-print, I concede the orphans and bad boxes, but deliberately choosing a document style this ugly?
Now that's what I call partisanship.


Fres -- co -- bal -- di!

Frescobaldi has a nifty tool for setting hyphens automatically in Lilypond lyrics. For this purpose it uses hyphenation dictionaries included in myspell, OpenOffice etc. As the locations for these resources vary between distributions, frescobaldi is likely to not find the dictionaries automatically: you have to set the paths by hand in Tools->Configure Frescobaldi…->Paths and, if you don't know the location, look for the hyphenation dics in the file list in YaST-> software. I had no luck with myspell (frescobaldi didn't list any languages), but after installing OpenOffice_org-hyphen I found appropriate files in /usr/share/ooo/hyphen and automatic hyphenation worked reasonably well (didn't hyphenate "buia" and couldn't do vowel slurs/elisions, of course).
Did I mention that I like Frescobaldi?


How to eject an iPod

Archimedes is notoriously bad at automounting, which means that it's a bloody nuisance to play music from my iPod. The sound output from Archimedes' on-board audio is not that good anyway, so I just want to use the USB port to power the Universal Dock. The only problem is that Archimedes still grabs enough control over the iPod's disk for it to display the Connected. Eject before disconnecting message and not play any music, even though the drive doesn't show up as mounted.
How to eject it properly (see the comments here):
Find out which device the computer is using for the iPod with ls -l /dev/disk/by-id. Eject the pod with sudo eject /dev/sdd1. (replace "sdd1" appropriately)


How to align plasma widgets

Update (05/2012): The kdeplasma-addons (Kubuntu; plasma-addons on SuSE) package provides a grid layout. Access via right mouseclick on desktop->Desktop Settings->Layout. Widgets snap to the grid when resized/moved.

The discussion about how to best do plasma layouts is in full cry in the forums (e.g. here), so this is the foot soldiers' method to somehow uniformly scale and align plasma desktop widgets:

All geometry values are set in the ~/.kde4/share/config/plasma-desktop-appletsrc file (KDE4.3; 4.2 users take plasma-appletsrc).
The relevant entries have e.g. the following structure and can be identified by their plugin name:

The geometry option specifies xposition, yposition, width, height. According to this (german) forum discussion zvalue handles foreground/background and transform specifies rotations. Adjust to your liking (those calculations could definitely be done by a script) and restart plasma as described here


Hey, I know that one!

A problem apparently not confined to Windows.

Be careful with your KDE4 update

…if you are using factory: openSuSE snuck in KDE4.3 β 1, and it has its snags. Shouldn't beta 1 be in the unstable repo?
Systray icons seem to be an all or nothing issue: while their display has greatly improved on Tisiphone, they are nearly unusable on Archimedes (try and find Kmail in the image above…). Akonadi keeps popping up an error message about not being able to connect to localhost on SuSE 10.3 for all KDE versions - the akonadi/PIM integration in KDE 4.2 is still being worked on according to the developers.


Unison fails to set permissions

Unison persistently refused to synchronise new files not present on one of the machines claiming:
"Failed to set permissions of file …" (different user names and IDs, by the way).
The solution (found here) is to disable owner and permission setting in the corresponding ~/.unison/<theproject>.prf file. Add the lines
and you should be fine.
Update (12/2014): I ran into a permissions problem again after installing a fresh 14.10 Kubuntu while keeping my old home partition (at least I think that's what changed between Unison runs ;) ).
This time it was "Error in setting permissions". This bug discussion recommended adding a
line to the .prf file (in addition to the options listed above), which solved  my issue.


Pulseaudio - I'm lovin' it

Freedom of choice is great - but SuSE 11.x definitely sports too many sound servers and backends. There is Pulseaudio (GNOME), Phonon (KDE4) and good old Alsa (just to name the most common ones), and I don't even want to try to understand how they work together or, actually, don't.
Repercussions on my system were that flash video in a browser doesn't play back properly as soon as any audio app is running, even with stopped playback. Sucks.
I decided to get rid of pulseaudio. You have to disable all pulseaudio support with
sudo setup-pulseaudio --disable
Afterwards, you can uninstall all pulseaudio packages, except for libpulse0, which seems to be a dependency of all sound-generating apps. This solved my problems for the moment.
For the Phonon/Pulseaudio discussion, see the disabling HowTo, Aaron Seigo's blog and the packaging mailing list.


GRUB and broken drivers

Thanks to the automatic update I messed up my freshly installed openSuSE 11.1. i.e. when starting Xorg I got a black screen, also the consoles were no longer reachable because they stayed black as well. In case this happens to you (or you find another driver module troublesome) try to add

(or whatever you suspect to be the problem) in the GRUB command line. After doing so, I could boot into a visible console (YEAH!) and start a console yast in order to delete the magic fglrx driver...

matplotlib and PDF bounding boxes

python-matplotlib can be a bit temperamental sometimes (at least 0.91). At the moment, I am preparing some figures to be included in a (PDF)LaTeX document, which should use correct fonts, math typesetting in the axis labels and a rather small figure size, so that I don't have to scale down in LaTeX, which would give me thin lines and tiny fonts. There is a very handy example in the SciPy Cookbook for all of that, which uses EPS output. No matter, pylab.savefig() also generates PDF when asked to do so - however, with little regard for the actual figure size, so usually the labels are cut off somewhere at the page border.
OK. EPS output and convert to PDF afterwards:
dum,my=os.popen('epstopdf myfig.eps')
A bit cumbersome; the converted eps figs look murky on some pdf viewers, but they print out OK.
Edit (02/2012): Being less ignorant about the matplotlib by now, I'd also recommend tweaking the figure's default parameter set, e.g.:
from matplotlib import pyplot as pl
import matplotlib
para = { 'axes.labelsize': 14, 'text.fontsize': 8, 'legend.fontsize': 11, 'xtick.labelsize': 10, 'ytick.labelsize': 10,  'figure.subplot.left' : 0.12, 'figure.subplot.right' : 0.98, 'figure.subplot.bottom' : 0.11, 'figure.subplot.top' : 0.97}
Or, even easier, use the pyplot.subplots_adjust() method for on-the-fly modification. Savefig to PDF should  yield decent results without the EPS workaround.


TeXlive 2008

… promises to offer some nice fixes: e.g., it disposes of the annoying "Page Group detected which pdfteX can't handle" message that comes with most OpenOffice or inkscape exported pdf figures (confirmed). Get it from the openSuSE:publishing repo. However, the openSuSE packagers removed the tlmgr (TeXlive update manager) utility, because it screws with the rpm database. (see this comment by tlmgr developer Norbert Preining). Completely understandable, but a bit of hard luck if you have to add packages not included in TeXlive. So you can either use the rpm-based TeXlive and install missing packages with mpm (remember to use the right install root and the fact that mpm doesn't manage packages installed by TeXlive), or install the tarball from TexLive and use tlmgr. Personally, I prefer the first option, I didn't gel with tlmgr, the GUI is an eyesore and uninstalling was a pest.
TeXlive 2008 is also only packaged for 11.0 upwards, so it's tar only for 10.3 and below.


The joys of plug and play

Oh, that scanner. Well, apart from that, it works OK, albeit slow.


Getting PDF two-page views righted

This has bugged me both in Okular and Adobe Reader: They are capable of displaying facing pages next to each other, but both display the first page on the left by default and all the following as they come, so individual pages are on the wrong side in standard books, where page 1 is on the right.
Annoying if you want to check layouts.
  • Adobe Reader solution: View->Page Display->Show Cover Page During Two-Up
  • Okular solution: Settings->Configure Okular…->General->Centre first page
I think all of this could be a little more intuitive.


Wireless trouble and more

After some major update my wireless stopped working on Tisiphone (Samsung R55 Cavan, Intel 3945 chipset). Not good. wlan0 didn't even show up in the ifconfig output. dmesg showed some startup problems with the iwl3945 kernel module.
The solution was to remove the compat-wireless drivers, you don't need them for the Intel 3945 chip (Some other update tried to sneak them in again, so beware!)
On the way (rebooting at least once without a working X server), I found that I had both a default and a pae kernel, which was interesting (to put it mildly), the latter had accompanied the uvcvideo-kmp-default module. No idea why.
To top everything off, the uvcvideo, wacom and nvidia modules refused to work with each other's preferred kernel version, and I wondered how my system had been running before and what my webcam was doing with uvcvideo when I had championed gspca previously. No matter, I changed the driver to gspca-kmp-default (not in the default repos, search software.opensuse.com for it).
So finally I can film myself using the Wacom tablet with the webcam and stream that over wireless all at once - I'm so hip I can't see over my pelvis.


Sloooooooow printing

...with our office HP LaserJet 1300n, especially for anything containing images, until I changed the printer model in YaST->Hardware to LaserJet 1300n hpijs with the corresponding .ppd file. See the OpenPrinting database for the differences between the postscript and hpijs drivers.


Empowering a Powerbook

To make it kind of a challenge, the Powerbook Aluminum 12'' was addled by a small HD, a slightly bent case, little RAM and a coffee-soaked combo drive.
Good news: most standard notebook HDs, RAM and slot-in optical drives (remove the slot facing on the replacement drive) fit, and Linux ought to run OK an a New World ppc.
Specs (L*W*H, in mm): optical drive 129*128*12.7, HD 100*70*9.5 ATA, RAM: SO-DIMM PC333 (2700) DDR, only one slot.
Bad news: you have to disembowel your powerbook completely to get at the optical drive, including removing the mainboard, detaching the heat sink and managing over 50 ridiculously small screws. Hard disk replacement happens on the way. Check the ifixit guide.
Additional things to have at the ready: ground bracelet (exposed mainboard and processor, remember), tweezers for lost screws etc, thermal conductivity paste, a soldering iron (for accidentally ripped cable connectors). A big hammer. Patience. Bravery. Faith.
Actually, the ifixit guide comments the necessary removal of a few keyboard keys with: This is scary - take a deep breath before continuing. A few pages later, you get such laconic gems as Support the heat sink with both hands, and carefully lift it out of the computer, or Lift the logic board partly up from the optical side - without any further encouragement. God, I need a shrink now.
Tisiphone (Samsung R55 Cavan) got a hard drive upgrade parallelly: a matter of two screws and one cable…
After that, everything went OK: We left 50 GB for Linux in the Apple partitioner. By patiently pressing "C" during bootup, the Powerbook was persuaded to boot both a Kubuntu hardy ppc CD and a SuSE 11.1 ppc DVD, though we haven't got around to installing anything yet.


iPod Classic: not again the composer tag!

GTKpod screenshot
I use to organise my largely classical mp3 library via Amarok: stored in a composer->album directory tree, sorted by composer tag, album art selected by the Amarok Cover Manager. Some folders contain old .m3u playlists.
Results of dumping the whole shebang onto my iPod via gtkpod:


Apple is not that nice.

Apple sells slick high-quality hardware and software combining usability and eye candy admirably. It's hip. It's not Microsoft.
Thus, we are tempted to confuse the cuddly guys from Cupertino with some kind of universal messianic benefactors - and forget they can be pretty evil and patronising, too.
  • Macbooks run only at half-speed when you remove the battery "This prevents the computer from shutting down if it demands more power than the A/C adaptor alone can provide." Besides, you might accidentally detach the maglock. I still fail to see the method behind this madness. How about a maglock arresting switch :-p And I haven't seen a laptop yet exceed its A/C adaptor - Macbooks are not exactly high-performance machines anyway.
  • Expensive spare parts - and pretty gruesome to take apart.
  • What on earth does one need a power cord for? OK, we all know the iPod just has the USB connector cable. That the Universal Dock, which is specified as a standalone charging station, comes without any cable, is a tad brazen.
  • Speaking of the dock: it ships with the Apple remote sporting a "Menu" button which has no effect on an iPod, because it's for FrontRow. Maybe the remote hardware guys could talk to the people developing the iPod firmware about that - they happen to work just around the corner. OK, right: Menu without clickwheel is a bit pointless - but couldn't the button do something?
  • Persistently ignoring the USB standard. Hang 'em high - with their own connector cables, preferrably.
  • iTunes. Said enough.
  • The new Shuffle and the headphone issue. BoingBoing Gadgets seriously suspects Apple of scheming for world domination. Well, good luck against Google.
I suppose my next computer will still not be an Apple machine - although I'm severely tempted each time I see a Macbook Pro.

Frescobaldi on SuSE 10.3/KDE 4.2

I love the music typesetting language lilypond, but I was missing a powerful editor for it - never got the hang of denemo (might be because I can't play midi keyboards). Last week I found out about frescobaldi, which blew me away completely.


Webcam adventures

Buy and install:
A few years ago, video skyping under linux would have been completely unthinkable. Just one more reason for me to finally get a webcam and test skype-2.0's video capabilities. Model: Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks Deluxe, which is reported to work more or less with both the gspca and the uvcvideo driver - and not too expensive, either.
I installed uvcvideo-kmp-default and libv4l in YaST, rebooted, camera was not found (kopete, skype), so I replaced uvcvideo with the gspcav-kmp-default driver. That worked.
Skype video support worked out-of-the-box on all systems, but the preview window is too small for self-testing. There are several webcam viewers for linux, but those were mostly incredibly old, didn't work with the camera or refused to install altogether (spent a wonderful hour resolving ruby dependencies with webKam).
kdetv displayed something (see image) on Archimedes (SuSE 10.3) after enabling the video4linux plugin (Settings->configure kdetv…->Video). Setting the Grab & Display Method to X11 (with shared memory) under Configure selected plugin… definitely improved the colour space.
On Tisiphone (11.1), I had no luck with kdetv at all, however, the Kopete viewer worked faultlessly. Oh, well…


Installing cb2Bib on openSuSE

Today I discovered cb2Bib, a very useful tool for extracting BibTeX data from clipboard contents or PDF papers. It doesn't work perfectly (get real, how could it), but might save a lot of tedious copy and paste if combined with JabRef.
Only hitch during installation: Only src RPM available, rpmbuild complained about not finding qmake/qt4, which is understandable, as I hadn't installed libqt4-devel, which provides it. Afterwards everything worked flawlessly.
# rpmbuild --rebuild cb2bib-1.2.0-1.src.rpm
# rpm -Uhv /usr/src/packages/RPMS/x86_64/cb2bib-1.2.0-1.x86_64.rpm
The resulting GUI is mainly self-explanatory point-and-click.


KDE on Windows

Starting with KDE 4, the KDE Team has ported a sizeable part of KDE to Windows.
  • Stuff working out-of-the box: Kate, KDEEdu, Kile starts. Windows/KDE relies on Qt4, so you actually get a preview of the upcoming Kile 2.1/KDE4. Compiling works (...). Some bug: Exiting and restarting Kile fails if you don't kill all KDE processes via the Task Manager inbetween.
  • needs some work: Amarok crashes at startup, caused by the Librivox plugin. Solution: edit ~/.kde/share/config/amarokrc.
    I had some trouble finding my .kde directory on Vista: C:\Users\myusername\AppData\Roaming\.kde
A very impressive feat by the KDE team. Made me realise again how much I hate Vista.


Spring cleaning: Find big directories

du is a tool listing directory tree sizes. Simple du produces tons of console output, so we reduce the search depth (anything below is summed up anyway), run it through grep to exclude small dirs and pipe it to a file.
du -h --max-depth=2 | grep '^[5-9][0-9]\{2\}M\|[0-9]G' > listfile.txt
  • -h for human: lists sizes in G, M, and K. Important for grep search. Change the max. search depth to your liking.
  • Grep string: searches for 500-999M at the beginning of the line or anything containing a number and 'G', thus anything over 500MB. See this link for grep reg. expressions. "\|" is the grep "or" operator, btw.
  • If you want a graphical tool, try KDirStat (it's also in the openSuSE main repo). It's a bit old, but works well on KDE 3 and 4.

No microphone recording with Skype (and elsewhere)

I had made several not very earnest attempts to place Skype calls from openSuSE, which failed on three different machines (a Samsung R55, an ASRock and an Asus board) as the microphone was not recording anything. Sound output worked. Three things to check:


Even Macbooks do crash

A friend of mine brought her 2-year-old Macbook with the hard disk in a sorry state and asked us to salvage some files she hadn't backed up yet.
Lots of things to learn:


KDE surprises

On my desktop I keep a slightly experimental system (no SuSE 11.1 though, due to Compiz issues), including KDE Factory. Last night Xanthippe greeted me with a noticeable KDE makeover - hiding icons in the system tray, button grouping in the task bar and a pretty transparent copying progress dialog. At that point I grew suspicious and checked my KDE version, which was in fact KDE 4.2.0, which has been released on Jan 27. Lots of features I am itching to try out: integrated power management, more and improved desktop effects, a configuration makeover, revamped Dolphin and file dialogs, a new krunner… check out the visual guide.

We seem to have a case of the old KDE4/openSuSE dilemma (compare the 4.0 to 4.1 switch): Major new KDE versions are shipped with new OS releases and are kept in Factory (unsupported) more or less up to the release date. While this is very reasonable from a developer's point of view, it's a bit hard on the user: at the moment, every KDE release is significantly more stable and complete than its predecessor, while the KDE and openSuSE release cycles are shifted by half a year. At the moment, KDE4:Factory provides a nice and apparently stable KDE 4.2 at the price of a few resolvable package conflicts, but you have to keep in mind that it's still a development snapshot and might land you with 4.1.3 beta at some point in the future.
Understandably, the developers wouldn't want to move the whole community to an unsupported KDE 4.2 right now, but couldn't they copy the KDE 4.2 stable release from the Factory repo to a separate branch at this point?


Catalyst 9.1 (fglrx 8.573) - I believe in miracles…

…and fairies…the Easter Bunny…Santa Claus…whatever. ATI has finally managed to release a graphics driver capable of running compiz and flicker-free video at the same time, well… most of the time. Same procedure as always (see this post), tested with openSuSE 11.0_x64, compiz 0.78, AIGLX and a Radeon X1300 card.
Kaffeine and the mplayerplug-in still have displaying troubles sometimes (video shifted, distorted, interspersed with GUI elements), but given a large choice of media players one usually finds one that works - and I haven't seen a system freeze yet.
ATI is teaching real Epicurean values here: keep your standards low, and you might get lots of pleasant surprises.


Mplayerplug-in and Quicktime cause Firefox to segfault

I can't remember quite when the mplayerplug-in started to kill firefox when playing Quicktime movies (doesn't affect WMV, by the way). They haven't updated the plugin for ages, so I suspect either a firefox update, new Quicktime codecs or some general SuSE 11.1-ness. Setting full debug in /etc/mplayerplug-in.conf didn't help, as it crashed before generating a single line of debugging output.
Quick fix: switched to gecko-mediaplayer, which is also a mplayer front end, according to its YaST description still under heavy development, but seems to run stable enough for now.

It had to be just the right kind of Java…

More fun with JabRef and the AWT toolkit. Starting JabRef by java -jar JabRef-2.4.2.jar got me a string of errors and no GUI:
ERROR while starting or running JabRef:
java.lang.NoClassDefFoundError: Could not initialize class java.awt.Toolkit
The reason for this appears to be that openSuSE uses the non-proprietary OpenJDK Java runtime by default, while you need Sun's JRE for JabRef to work (available in the non-oss repo).
Check with java -version - if it says "OpenJDK" instead of "Java(TM)", you need to switch the packages in YaST or zypper.


Insufficient CD/DVD drive permissions on openSuSE 11.1

One of those "I should have known..." posts. I just could not get my flu-addled brain to google the problem and, I am ashamed to confess, watched DVDs on Vista instead.
  • Audio CDs and video DVDs were displayed in Konqueror, but not played (and yes, I had all the codecs).
  • K3b warned me about not having a burner.
  • wodim --devices found nothing.
This has made the most-annoying-bug list on opensuse.org, and the developers keep bickering in the bugzilla comments. The most popular workaround seems to be to add your user to the disk group, which works, but poses an ugly security risk: disk members have raw access to all hard drives.
Pawel Stolowski on the bugzilla thread suggests changing the group ownership to cdrom for all optical drives in the udev rules:
  • add your user to the cdrom group in YaST->Users and Groups.
  • create (sudo) a file 99-my.rules in /etc/udev/rules.d/ containing this line:
    KERNEL=="sr*[0-9]", GROUP="cdrom", MODE="0660"
  • reboot
Worked for me. There seems to be an upcoming hal etc. patch by Danny Kukawa, which ought to sort out the problem. Oh, and other cynical bastards like me out there might derive some guilty amusement from the troll wars in the bug thread.