Monthly Archives: March 2008

Linux on a PowerBook, the iron fist in a velvet glove?

Well at least that’s the quote I’ve seen kicking around. In a fit of ‘new things technical’ over the weekend, I erased 10.5 from my G4 PowerBook (I’m sorry Apple, but if you think Leopards performance on the G4 is acceptable, there are at least 2 owners here who would heartily disagree) and decided to stick the Hardy Heron Ubuntu beta on it instead, having been superficially impressed with it in a quick show and tell with Frank on Friday afternoon.

So this quickly turned into a bit of a frustration. Having erased Kubuntu from my now Windows XP SP3(!) Dell laptop (oh so much happiness after Vista), I still feel I need a Linux platform to play on and I have issues with VMware Server (version 1 doesn’t seem to be able to bridge my WLAN connection and version 2 beta is .. dire quite frankly to the point of non-functionality).

The actual installation on to the PowerBook was fine, although booting from the LiveCD it was obvious that my wireless card was not supported ‘out of the box’. Ploughing ahead anyway, I wiped the system and booted back into a very refined Gnome interface (I never thought I would end up back in Gnome, but KDE is turning into a train wreck of a window manager). It certainly looked pretty, but the differences between well supported x86 architechture and Apple’s former PowerPC favourites quickly became clear.

There is *no* out of the box support for the PowerBook wireless. In fact getting it to work was quite the exercise in frustration. The procedure is mildly different from Gutsy (and in fact better) but nevertheless not that easy to find. I managed to get it working for, hmm, about 1 boot. Since then it has refused to work. It can’t even see half the wireless networks that my Dell can – and has great difficulty authenticating with my Linksys router (mind you my PDA also struggles with this). However this leaves me at the mercy of a wired connection, and I’m sorry – I have laptops precisely because they’re portable and it annoys Harriet less to have me in the room with her nerding rather than in the spare room nerding.

Then the other problem start to become appparent. The keyboard backlighting functions are broken, not just the fancy dimming functions – but the caps lock key. The single mouse button is a hindrance beyond belief (which it just isn’t in OS X despite a large number of context sensitive right click operations available). The screen dimming buttons make X extremely unstable. It’s impossible to install OpenOffice.Org currently from the repositories. The machine itself is running hot – and believe me this machine got hot under OS X but it’s managed to iron a nice flat depression into my sofa cushion with Ubuntu on it. Oh and there’s absolutely no support for the ATI Radeon Mobile chipset in it – so no compiz-fusion for me, or at least no way I could see to make it all hang together.

I appreciate that some of these issues might be related to the fact it’s a beta release, but it seems that PPC owners (especially laptop owners) are getting short changed. I’m sure this would work great on a desktop with an NVIDIA card in, but for me having this installed without using any of the joyful, full functionality of the laptop is just plain wrong to me.

It’s a shame, because as a distribution I still think Ubuntu is by far and away the best desktop Linux for those of us for whom compiling systems is just not fun anymore (yes I did used to do it.. 13 years ago!). It’s been rock solid as a server platform for us on x86 and x86-64 (mind you I can happily say that about RHEL4 as well, I just dont like it as much).

10.4 goes back on the PowerBook tomorrow as a) I no longer have 10.5 media and b) it’s faster. Strange how downgrading from the latest OS releases has suddenly become a necessity for me! A shame I lack a dedicated Linux platform to play with though. Maybe I should just get another laptop…..

The ‘interview suit test’

Well I’ve been meaning to do this for a while.  It has been particularly noticable the last few times I have tried my (only) suit on that it just doesn’t fit.  I haven’t been able to do up the top button of the shirt, I haven’t been able to fasten the clips on the waistband of the trousers and the belt looks ridiculously short when on.

This suit was bought specifically for my Newcastle interview which must have taken place in December 2004.

This morning I have tried it on again – and magically – it fits.  The trouser waist is still a touch tight – but fits, my shirt can be buttoned fully without choking me, and when it’s all on it looks like it actually is my size.  The belt is 2 clear notches tighter!  Currently I’m hovering around 12.5 stone – which means I was probably 12 stone when I came to Newcastle – as the suit was a gorgeous, comfortable fit when I bought it.  Clearly the lack of walking to and from work, and a lack of clubbing and badminton has been the cause of my weight gain over the last 3 years – as to be honest I’m probably leading a much healthier food and drink life than I was in Oxford.

Anyway, a happy diet milestone for me – one that I was aiming for.  Hopefully the next time I try it on I will be out shopping for a tighter belt :)

Bye bye Vista

Well after patiently waiting for Vista SP1 to come out and see if it improves the dreadful stability of Vista on my Dell Vostro 1400 – I installed it this week to find out that it has absolutely no effect at all.  Ever since I installed Vista on this machine it’s been up and down like a yoyo with IRQL related BSODs no matter how I configure it.  In fact some Vista updates have been prone to making the situation worse, which meant I ended up having to hand approve and test every update to make sure that it wasn’t going to make Vista *any worse* let alone any better.

So after my first post-SP1 Vista update BSOD I just jacked it all in.  One of the advantages of MSDN logins is that I can get valid versions of software quite happily. I’m now sat here, back in the familiar environs of Windows XP SP2.  In fact since I got my old Powerbook at home, I’ve been using Linux on the laptop less and less – so I trashed that too.  The Dell is now a Windows only zone.  I have had to make some compromises as I couldn’t install an unpatched XP SP2 CD due to the SATA/AHCPI setup on the laptop (so I turned it off), but after finding this excellent page, I managed to get all my drivers back onto the system and it runs perfectly.  I could have rolled my own SP2 install disc with the SATA drivers, but even my geek patience has some limits.

First impressions?  Well it takes up about 1/4 of the space of Vista (if not less), is significantly faster, and hopefully is more stable.  Vista is definitely pretty – Microsoft have done a lot of work on it – XP’s font rendering is clearly not as good, but right now I don’t care!  I’m glad I don’t have to put up with the awful Vista icons anymore in my home directory (I still don’t understand why I have to have icons on directories that are clearly named ‘Music’ ‘Pictures’ ‘Downloads’ etc.) .  The Control Panel is reduced back to a sane level of components.

Hooray for downgrades eh?  My Linux needs are now catered for in the shape of an Ubuntu VM (courtesy of the free VMWare Server) which runs just fine with a dedicated GB of ram in the VM, although I suspect I will just do most of my *nix based work on the Powerbook anyway.  At least I feel I have some flexibility now!

I do however have a little warning for the current XP2 installation.  Any signs of instability will not be tolerated.  The next BSOD I have, it’s all going.  The VM, XP, Vista, the lot and I will just turn my back on the Microsoft world forever, and Ubuntu will rule the machine.

Why not just run Ubuntu and have XP2 in a VM you ask?

I still like to play games…

BLOC Weekender 2008

Well a week after the event and I feel fully recuperated from several nights of sleep deprivation, beer guzzling, techno grooving and non-dieting.

For those of you who don’t know BLOC is a relatively new annual 3 day dance weekender, mainly focusing on the techno end of the musical scale. No place for knob twiddling introspection (a la ATP), this is 3 days (and basically non-stop) eclectic, hard, danceable music purveyed by some legendary names.

ATP before Christmas was fun, but Aphex Twin was the notable highlight apart from Portishead, so I don’t think its a terrible surprise that I enjoyed this event a lot more. In fact it was greatly reminsicent of the original ATP I went to in 2003 that was curated by Autechre.

Saw too many people to name them all so I guess a quick run down of the highlights and disappointments is due. I thoroughly enjoyed the reformed Red Snapper on the first night, but was left a little cold by Amon Tobin later in the evening. I’m not sure if they put him on in the wrong slot, or he was just playing the wrong tunes, but given how much I like his work it was a little disappointing. I was having fun at the Underground Resistance gig too, despite some of my companions being less than charitable about them – I do admit that there was a little anachronism about it however. I really enjoyed my introduction to two back to back acts on the Saturday – both Sleeparchive and Monolake pushed all the right buttons for me. Of the other ‘big’ names (i.e. ones I have previously heard of ;)) Dave Clarke put on a blinding set (again possibly against expectations of my friends who had been disappointed with him at Sonar previously). Radioactive Man was similiarly excellent. The biggest disappointment was probably the Dexorcist who managed to play a great selection of tunes really badly – I don’t know what went wrong, but he was probably relieved that the fire alarm went off in the middle of the set. I had left at that point, and would have loved to have seen how many people continued dancing on the dancefloor to the sound of the alarms, blissfully unaware of what was happening.

The two acts I enjoyed most were probably the Wee DJ’s (the fact that he is neither small – nor are there more than one of them – makes me smile). The fact that the Avionix Records folks were well acquainted with him meant that I was not going to miss his set – and I’m really glad I didn’t. I think he got the best reception I saw in the smaller venue over that weekend. I finished up the weekend before the last act played (knowing full well I had to get up at 8am on Monday ;)) so the last act I saw was Phuture 303 which completely blew my mind at some point early on Monday morning. I’d just forgotten how much fun it could be to bounce around with 2,500 other people to an astonishing selection of tunes.

BLOC – very well done – the sound systems were great (probably helped by the fact at least one was a Funktion 1), the act selection was great, the punters were great. The bouncers were cool, the chalet was brilliant. Even well enough equipped for the non vegans in our group to sit down Sunday evening to a full lamb roast and a couple of bottles of good red wine. Not sure how many other people did that on Sunday, but the look on James face (who popped in just before we dished up) was priceless.

No hestitation in saying I will be back again next year, hopefully with the same great bunch of people, to do it all over again!

Is today International Bad Science day?

First of all this gem of a quote from the mostly useless (s/n ratio of about 1/10 postwise) zenhabits.net, a site that stays in my RSS feed because I’m simply too Zen (or lazy) to remove it:

Drink lots of water. During the course of our sleep, we lose a lot of oxygen during our breathing and so its important that when you get up, you have a big glass of water. The energy our cells gets from water is very important and useful and will keep our body working in correct order.”

First of all I’ve obviously been blissfully unaware of my poor body hemorrhaging oxygen during the night.  It’s just lucky that I haven’t lost so much during one of those extended weekends where I did nothing but sleep that I died!

Also, delighted to hear now that I’m fueled by water, when I could pretty much have been convinced that I’m functioning mainly as a sort of carbohydrate economy.  But I’m a biologist, so what would I know!  I wonder how many calories there are in water?  I’d better start counting them seeing as I am on a diet.

Secondly we have something from the esteemed morning journal ‘The Metro’.  From their science soundbite section Minicosm we have another great quote:

 “You heard it here first – Charles Darwin was wrong about evolution.  Well in chickens anyway.  A study of the birds legs has revealed that they are not descended from one species as the biologist thought. Yellow skinned chickens have yellow legs because they lack a gene which breaks down pigment in cornfeed.  Their white skinned cousins do have the DNA meaning the two do not share the same ancestor.”

I mean this is truly a startling revalation – 2 creatures, that apparently LOOK like chickens, act like chickens and presumably taste like chickens don’t have a common ancestor.  This can only mean that one of them is in fact an entirely new branch of life!  Does this mean because humans  lack KRTHAP1, or MYH16 which the primates have that we also do not share a common ancestor?  I think someone needs to tell the evolutionary biologists, because this is going to change their world view quite a bit.

Such a shame really, I sat in front of “Life in Cold Blood” and  the Stephen Hawking program last night thinking that it was great that there was finally a bit of decent science related TV on (apart from The Big Bang Theory of course!).  These two quotes have depressed me beyond belief at the general ignorance of the authors they have just exposed.