I’m good at breaking stuff

It seems that I have a talent for breaking things. I’ve been wondering why no-one has commented on here for nearly two months and it turns out it’s because I’d managed to completely remove the comment forms from the blog entries.

I’m not sure how I did it, but I do remember “tampering” a little bit with some of the site templates a little while ago. I’ve refreshed the offending files and it should all be working again now, at least until I find a way to break something else.

Thanks to Sarah for letting me know.


iTunes – not as shit as I thought

Now that I’m fiddling around in OSX I figured I’d give the default music player a bash. I didn’t have the option in Linux, obviously, but I did use iTunes occasionally when using my work XP machine, or on my girlfriend’s PC.

My previous exposure to iTunes left me with the impression that it was quite pretty but a bit dim. It didn’t really seem very easy to use and lacked a number of important features. Maybe it was just me but I really preferred using Amarok on my Linux machine or some of the alternative music players in XP, such as MediaMonkey. I just thought that iTunes made it all a bit difficult, that it tried to take control of your music and subsequently succeeded in obfuscating your collection.

I just feel a little lost in iTunes. Amarok made it easy to sort my music into collections. I ripped my albums onto an external drive and I could either find my music using the stored collection or I could just direct the player to the files myself. Everything was sorted, physically on my disk, by genre, artist and album and I liked it like that. iTunes just seems to have its own idea on how to sort stuff and I’m yet to really figure out how to do it efficiently.

I also have a technical issue with iTunes. For some reason, and I’ve never really been able to figure this out, iTunes does not support the Open Source media format Ogg Vorbis. I’d decided, years ago, that I wanted to rip all my music into this format, so almost my entire collection is in Ogg format. Thankfully there’s a way to get Quicktime, and by extension iTunes, to recognise and play Ogg files – a Quicktime component provided by Xiph.org.

It took me a few attempts to install this correctly, but I managed it eventually. I successfully imported my collection into iTunes and have been able to play them quite happily. iTunes even managed to import a whole bunch of album art so that the rather funky visual display looks rather nice when flipping through my collection.

There was another technical issue though. For some reason iTunes refused to accept a whole bunch of the included metadata from these tracks, including the track numbers. This made playing albums quite frustrating because it insisted on playing the music in alphabetical order. Not so good for a live album! Luckily I found the answer to that question back at Xiph.org where someone had very kindly created a script to fix this very issue. It’s taken quite a while to search through my tracks but it does seem to have correctly re-ordered all my Ogg files.

Top work that man!

In the meantime I’m going to have a go at creating a few playlists in iTunes. I think this may be a good way to order my music into more manageable chunks. I’m going to have to read a few instructions to get the most out of this, but as a new Mac user I think I’m going to have to be doing an awful lot of that anyway. I need to find the shortcuts and hotkeys that make the whole experience faster and more pleasurable.

I hate to admit it though – as much as iTunes frustrates me in its apparent ineptitude I am starting to like it. Just a little bit.

Traiter to the OSS cause

For some years now I’ve been a regular user of Open Source Software – OSS. I love the fact that OSS software is community-driven, that the source code is readily available and editable by anyone – plus the fact that it is generally free.

In many cases, “free” doesn’t necessarily mean “crap” either. Some of the Internet’s most used applications are Open Source and are of generally equal, if not superior, quality to the proprietary equivalents. PHP and Apache are two such applications – software that provides a huge chunk of the internet infrastructure.

My PC at home has Ubuntu installed on it. Ubuntu is a particularly popular flavour of Linux, an Open Source operating system. Rather than using a proprietary, and costly, operating system for my home PC use I’ve been enjoying this excellent, free software.

Ubuntu has many positives to recommend it. It’s largely driven by a very active community and contains some of the more recent developments in Linux software development. Updates are regular, often daily, unlike the monthly updates from Microsoft, and contains some of the most innovative GUI enhancements around.

So, why the hell would I want to change any of that?

I’ve been asking that question of myself quite a bit recently. Why change from this interesting, innovative and useful collection of software? Why buy into something other than Open Source – something, *gulp*, proprietary in nature?

Well, I did something contrary to my belief in Open Source on Sunday. I bought an iMac!

I can hardly believe I did it, especially everything else I’ve been through with Linux, but here I am with a piece of proprietary hardware and software on my desk. It’s difficult to really pin down why I so desired an iMac, but I’ll attempt to explain this seemingly illogical purchase.

Firstly, I was in need of a new computer. My old machine was starting to sound a little rough and whereas it was generally fast enough for normal use it really started to feel to strain when I tried Ubuntu with Compiz installed. I like a bit of eye-candy and Ubuntu was starting to deliver some gorgeous, useful utilities but my old machine just couldn’t cope with all that processing. It was getting to old and too noisy too.

So, I could have just upgraded my current box, but to make it significantly better would have required a new motherboard and processor, along with some other new parts to stop all the noise. My 19 inch LCD monitor was fine, but just about everything else needed replacing. I’ve been secretly admiring the iMac for a while and it seemed to me that the time may be ripe for me to actually dive into a new desktop experience.

We have a good friend that lives over in Northern Ireland. He’s an architect and he uses multiple iMacs for his business. The last time we visited them I was impressed my the aesthetics of the iMac and the general usefulness and seemingly effortless utility of OSX. It was all so shiny and lovely.

A month or so ago they came to stay with us in Nottingham, and we happened to be looking for something in our local retail park. PC World was close by and so we popped in to look at the iMacs. He showed me around the interface and I was utterly sold – I just had to have one.

But before I could bring myself to make the purchase I had to weigh up my options, most of which would have saved me quite a bit of money. I could have purchased a new desktop for less than half the price of the iMac and installed Ubuntu onto that. I could have bought the bits and built myself a rather ace desktop with some fancy case along with an OEM installation of Windows Vista, which could have been dual-booted with Linux. Either of those would have been good choices, but I would not have had a gorgeous 24 inch screen.

I know this is a pretty weak reason for buying it, but the one thing more than anything else that has persuaded me to buy an iMac is the fact that it is utterly beautiful. It’s almost a work of art in itself, and the fact that the software that comes with it is particularly useful is an added bonus.

So, I am now a Mac owner and user. The last couple of days have been spent trying to figure out how the hell it all works. I still have Tiger on there but Leopard will be on its way in the next day or so. Once I have the new version of OSX on I shall be attempting to configure Boot Camp to allow me to boot into Ubuntu if I choose to do so, although I will also be trying to installing it to run simultaneously with OSX buy using an emulator like Parallels.

I also have the opportunity to install some of my favourite OSS software on Mac OSX using Fink. This is a clever project that ports Linux software using Debian tools and makes them available to those of us living in the proprietary world of Apple OSX.

I have not abandoned Open Source, but it seems that I am sleeping with the enemy. To extend that metaphor even further it would seem that this enemy is an absolutely spectacular shag!

I’m still learning my way around OSX for the moment but I’m seriously impressed so far. We shall see where this leads me.

Breaking Ubuntu (again)

I have a talent for breaking Linux, especially the versions installed on my own PC. If there’s even the slightest chance of me changing something in the build that will screw it up, terminally, then that’s what I’ll do.

Take Sunday for instance. I was a little hungover from my over-indulgence the evening before – that Duvel is wicked stuff. Anyway, I was in no fit state to do anything too vigorous so I decided that it might be a good idea to upgrade my Linux box from Feisty Fox to Gutsy Gibbon.

In order to do this I had to merely, theoretically, click the “upgrade” box in the Ubuntu update manager. This seemed to work fine – for a while. It correctly downloaded all the files it needed to and began the upgrade process. Unfortunately, while it was updating tzdata (whatever that is) it stopped. There were no error messages, flashing lights or other warnings that anything had gone wrong – the whole process just ground to a halt. I left it overnight to see if it would restart on its own accord, but that was an entirely foolish notion.

The next day I rebooted the thing. Naturally, the whole installation was then completely stuffed. It wouldn’t boot up due to the partially updated nature of the OS. Unfortunately I’d also previously broken the Linux installation on the alternate disk in this machine – by running some very silly chmod commands in terminal. I had no bootable OS on my PC.

Even more unfortunately the DVD player on the PC was also playing up. It often refused to work and caused the machine to hang. Thankfully I managed to fix that by opening up the box and fiddling with a few cables – must have been a dodgy connection somewhere.

I decided that I needed to get a new installation DVD, so I headed down to WHSmith to get a Linux Format CD. The latest one only had Xubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fox) but I figured that this would do, and I could then just upgrade it afterwards. As you’d expect with me, I had even more issues. For some daft reason I could not get the Xubuntu installer to partition my disks – either of them. It refused to format existing partitions with ext3 and sometimes complained about not having sufficient permissions to mount one of the disks.

Unperturbed I persisted and managed to get the disks partitioned, but only by having to do it manually using gparted and by putting the swap space in the first partition. So, thinking I’d fixed it I carried on with the installation.

How wrong was I? Once the installation finished, and I rebooted, Xubuntu wouldn’t start properly. Something was wrong with X and it wouldn’t load the xserver. FFS! Thankfully, I also had a Gentoo installation DVD from a previous version of Linux Format.

I decided to give that a go. It didn’t like installating with the GTK installer so I tried it with the terminal version instead. You need to answer a few more questions to install Gentoo, and I thought I’d had it all figured out but it turns out that I’d also manage to fluff up this installation too – it also refused to launch X, even though it told me that X11 was installed correctly. Bollocks it was!

Ever the optimist I’d been downloading Xubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) on our laptop while all this was going on. I figured I could use it as a fallback option, and I needed to. All I had to do was burn it onto a CD and I could install from that. But it turns out that Windows XP doesn’t know how to burn a CD from an ISO. How is that even possible? I can hardly believe that Windows doesn’t ship with any tools to do this, but apparently it does. I downloaded some freeware from Tucows and carried on with my little Linux Odyssey.

Thankfully this new installation attempt went without a hitch. Xubuntu partitioned my disks OK this time and installed in hardly any time at all. It booted straight into the a rather nice-looking installation of XFCE and gave me a little poke to install the non-free driver for my nVidia card – which I did and rebooted. It still worked on the reboot (surprise!) and I was now able to get back into my PC.

Luckily I save all my photos and music onto an external drive, so I haven’t lost anything important. I think I’ll stick with Xubuntu for the time being, because I’m considering buying a lovely new iMac at the weekend to replace my ageing PC.

In the meantime, I’d recommend turning off and removing Compiz before upgrading from Feisty Fox. I don’t know for certain that this is was killed my box, but it’s the only “unstable” bit of software I had installed on there and it’s probably better to take a safety first approach, especially as there are plenty of other people having problems with this upgrade.

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

I’ve been taking an interest in Atheism recently and have been reading up on various aspects of non-belief. I have a couple of friends at work that are raging heathens, which is nice, and we’ve had a few discussions concerning the non-existence of God.

My current toilet-reading is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. He’s an entertaining scientist and broadcaster and has lots of very persuasive ideas. He communicates his non-belief in a way that even a numb-skull like me can understand.

One of my favourite websites is Newsvine. They have a group devoted to Atheism and I often find that other people have seeded some really interesting articles from elsewhere on the web. One of those, seeded today, is an article from 2002 by Scientificamerican.com. It sets out 15 answers to the usual Creationist arguments to evolution.

Evolution is something that hits right at the heart of Creationism. Whereas it can never prove that God does not exist it does show how every species on Earth has developed. If you show that it is possible, and probable, that all living life has developed over billions of years by the process of Natural Selection, then there’s no reason to believe that some external intelligence has designed everything.

It doesn’t seem rational, to me, to assume that God just poofed everything into existence. It’s just not logical.

However, if I’m to sway from my decades-long membership of the Agnosticism Club then I’ve got an awful lot of reading to do. I want to maintain an open mind and whereas I’m finding the arguments for Atheism particularly convincing I should also take it upon myself to read up on the Supernatural. Even if I’m not persuaded by religious arguments at least I’ll find it all very interesting.

In the meantime it’s back to Dawkins for me.