Life Linux Science and Technology

My Great New Phone with Several Horrendous Shortcomings

Would you buy a cell phone if it was really, really, really cool, and could help organize your life, and had web connectivity and GPS and all sorts of other neat stuff, but couldn’t make calls inside your house because of service problems?

Oh — you wouldn’t? Well, screw you, no one cares what you think anyway!

Well, I did it — I went and bought a G1. If you don’t know what a G1 is, it’s Google’s first foray in to the world of cellular telephones — a cell phone, made by a company called HTC, running Google’s Android mobile phone operating system.

It really is a great phone — more like a tiny computer. It links up and syncs completely with your Google account (a great boon for disorganized people like myself — now my cell phone, which is with me always, can remind me of things I set on my computer, which is not with me always).

It has built-in WIFI access, built-in GPS, and to top it all off, the entire thing is running on top of a Linux installation (that you can hack the shit out of if you want to).

That being said, there are certain… issues with the G1.

Number one:  the battery life, or lack thereof. And this isn’t just the usual “Oh, my battery doesn’t last for 15 days, therefore it stinks.” No, no, no. I can fully charge my G1, let it sit there, maybe browse the net a few times, poke around here and there, and 22 hours later it’s dead. And this isn’t even with me even really doing anything on the phone. I’m just practically letting it sit there.

In converse, Nina can sit there with her Blackberry Curve browsing the net, sending SMS, Twittering, and her battery lasts for about three days.

Of course — I can live with that. It’s a powerful device — it needs a lot of power. It’s like a small computer, like I said — if I had a laptop with a battery that lasted for 22 hours, I’d be really happy!

However, here’s the practical dealbreaker — the G1 has no UMA. What’s that, you may ask? It’s a technology that allows (modern) cell phones to make calls over your home’s WIFI internet, using your regular cell phone minutes — it’s kinda of like having a super-strong cell phone tower in your house, with unlimited reception.

Never a dropped call, crystal clear connection — it’s amazing.

More importantly, if you live in an area with poor cell phone reception (say, you can receive calls outside your house but not inside, or you’re roaming inside your house, or whatever), UMA pretty much fixes that.  And it’s seamless, too — you can make a call inside your house, go outside, and it doesn’t get dropped, and vice-versa.

The G1 not having this, in the area where we live, makes it almost useless inside our home (where I’m spending most of our time if I’m not at work, and thus too busy to use my phone).


(Still deciding what to do about this.)

Linux Programming Science and Technology

Google Earth 5.0 Installation Problems

Nabble – ubuntu-users – Google Earth 5.0 Installation Problems.

Wondering why your brand new installation of Google Earth 5.0 isn’t working in Ubuntu?  Is it crashing after it gets done with the splash screen, or generally just not starting up?

An odd problem, but one with an easy fix — just go to the folder where you installed Google Earth (the program files, not the shortcut), and delete or move the file called “”.

And that’s it — wierd, but it works.

Blogging Distraction Linux Rants and Raves Science and Technology

Ubuntu Made Me Drop Out of College! What Was I Doing in College, Anyway?


WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports -27 News Troubleshooter: Woman says Dell computer kept her from taking online classes.

This has seriously got to be a joke. I can’t figure out any other explanation for it. I’m going to try and not get too upset about, because I’m almost 75% sure this is a joke, because there’s so much of this article that is either grossly exaggerated, or just downright untrue.

Let me show you some quotes (after you read the article up above — don’t worry it’s not long):

But something stopped her: Ubuntu.

That’s an operating system for your computer similar to Windows that runs off the Linux system.

I love it when a journalist can’t even get the first farking thing right. No, Ubuntu is not “similiar” to Windows. It doesn’t even try to be. And it doesn’t “run off the Linux system” — I don’t even know what that means. It is Linux.

She didn’t realize until the next morning her laptop defaulted to the Ubuntu operating system.

Once again, I don’t even know what this line is trying to say. A computer no more “defaults” to a certain operating system than a car “defaults” to a certain engine. If it has Ubuntu installed, it has it installed — there is no “defaulting” going on. It’s not like anyone’s being tricked into running Ubuntu, which is what I think the author here was implying.

Schubert says she never heard of Ubuntu before learning that’s when [sic] she accidentally bought.

And here’s my biggest problem with the story — there’s no way to “accidentally” buy a computer with Ubuntu on  I challenge you to try.  Go ahead — load up a new browser window and go to and just try to even find a computer they sell with Ubuntu on it. (Doesn’t count if you search for the word “ubuntu” on the site — you’re not “stumbling” onto something you’re looking for intentionally. :P)

Let me save you the trouble — you won’t be able to.  Dell did that on purpose, specifically to avoid this kind of thing happening (i.e., the novice computer user buying a computer with Ubuntu as its operating system, and then complaining when it’s unfamiliar to them).  When you’re buying computers on the “normal” section of their site, Ubuntu isn’t even listed as an option (you usually have a choice of either Windows Vista crap edition, Windows Vista poop edition, or Windows XP, which for some reason usually costs $100 extra).

I really can’t critique the rest of the article because of this.  Either this is a joke story , or someone else — conveniently not mentioned in the story — bought this computer and gave it to her, which isn’t either Ubuntu’s or Dell’s fault.

Just a few more points, though, because I honestly can’t resist:

Later, she discovered Ubuntu might look like Windows, but it doesn’t always act like it.

I love it when journalists don’t even try to make it look like they did any research.

Ubuntu doesn’t look anything like Microsoft Windows, other than the fact that they both exist on a computer screen. It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance to become aware of this. This is like saying your Ford Taurus “looks like a Ferrari, but sure doesn’t drive like one.” I mean, come on — they both have tires, right?

Her Verizon High-Speed Internet CD won’t load, so she can’t access the internet.

Oh boy — here’s another little tip, O novice computer users — those little CD’s you usually get upon buying high-speed access when you move into a new house or change internet providers or whatever? You don’t need them. Throw them away. Any modern high-speed internet network is completely system agnostic — it doesn’t care what it’s hooking up to. Just hook your modem up to your wall, and plug it into your computer. That’s it. Doesn’t matter if you’re running MacOS, Linux, or Windows.

Your high-speed service provider will tell you that you need to run a CD, but trust me, you don’t.  This is proved later on in the article, when we’re told that “Verizon says it will dispatch a technician to try to assist her accessing the internet without using the Windows-only installation disk.”  Well, that’s nice of them to make an entire trip out there to do something that’ll take all of, oh, five minutes.

She also can’t install Microsoft Word, which she says is a requirement for MATC’s online classes.

This is a much larger problem, and one that I really don’t have the time to get into here, but you don’t ever really need specific programs to do school work.

You don’t need Microsoft Word to do word processing.

You don’t need Microsoft Excel to do spreadsheet tasks.

You don’t need Adobe Acrobat to use and create PDF files.

And for the love of G-d, YOU DON’T need Internet Explorer to browse the web.

It’s a sad, sad phenomenom in our society that an entire generation of computer users has grown up thinking that the “Microsoft way” is the only way to do things.  (And they’re definitely not doing anything to help that problem.)

Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and a place for Microsoft products — Windows is a tool, and it’s a tool with a specific purpose, but just like you don’t need to buy one particular brand of hammer to build a house, you don’t always need Microsoft products to do things with a computer.

You can see this kind of thinking all throughout this article — Ubuntu “looks like Windows, but sure doesn’t ‘act’ like it. ”  (As if anything that doesn’t act like Windows isn’t a “real” operating system.)  Ubuntu just won’t let her install Microsoft Word!  (As if this is the only way to get word processing done.)

Tsk tsk tsk, WKOW 27 News Station.  Either this is a joke (and if it is, I’ve got to admit it’s actually pretty good), or you’re seriously, seriously uninformed when it comes to computers and the Internet.

(Yes, I used “uninformed” to be nice.  A less polite person than me would’ve said “fucking retarded,” but I’m not going to go down that path.)

Life Science and Technology

MP3 and ID3, Together at Last

I’ve just spend something like seven hours over the past two days adding ID3 tags to all of my old MP3’s.

In case you didn’t know, ID3 tags are little bits of information that are encoded along with your MP3’s that tell your MP3 player of choice (be it Apple, Sandisk, Zune — yeah, right, a “Zune”, HURR) what the current song’s title, artist, album, etc. are.

Neat, ain’t it? Yeah, it just doesn’t know it by magic.

Now, unfortunately, depending upon how you get your MP3’s, this information is not always included along with the files. (Say, for instance, you ripped your own MP3’s from your private CD collection.) Some CD rippers are thoughtful, and ask you to include artist and album information (though this is still a pain in the ass to fill out, since you have to do every song separately). Some programs (oddly enough, ones you usually don’t pay for) are smart enough to go online to several big open-source CD information sites, check the track lengths on the CD you’re trying to rip, and then figure out what CD it is, filling in the ID3 information for you!

Yeah, that’s if you’re lucky. However, if you’re like a lot of people, you have a massive collection of old MP3’s — most of which you have no idea where they’re from — and none of them have appropriate artist/album/track information. Most of them will have correct file names, but that doesn’t mean crap when you put them on your iPod or whatever. They’ll just show up as a bunch of “Unknown — Unknown Artist — Unknown Album” tracks.

Well, half of all my MP3’s were like this, and it was pretty pathetic.  I’ve always had the intention to fix them all, but it’s a big, big job to take on, and every time I started I put it off.

So, yesterday, I sat down, and I was all like, “I’m going to do this.”  About seven hours later I was done.

What helped me do it?  A little program called EasyTag, available free from your favorite Linux repository. Not the most beautiful program in the world (especially on my small laptop screen, as Easy Tag is obviously to be used with three columns of information), but it works!

A little word to the wise, if you’re planning on doing this yourself, to your own MP3 collection — EasyTag doesn’t edit files directly and right away. You have your big list of files there in the middle column, and you edit their ID3 tag information on the right. You can do a bunch of files like this, and then when you’re finally ready for your changes to be applied, then you click on the little “Save” icon (which will forever be a bloody floppy disk, now and until the end of time, even if no one uses them anymore). Only then are your changes applied to your MP3 files.

Linux Science and Technology

Reinstalled Ubuntu 8.04

Just reinstalled Ubuntu 8.04 on my laptop — DEAR GOD, the sheer amount of problems this has fixed is incredible.

Processor scaling doesn’t work yet, but I swear it’s a good thing. Not having my speed jump all around has made UI response a thousand times quicker.

My apps using Adobe AIR work perfectly, as far as I can tell (a lot of problems erupted when Adobe released the final version 1.5 for Linux, as you can read about here

Life Linux Science and Technology

Upgrading my Dell Inspiron 1100 from a Celeron 2.8 to a Pentium IV 2.6

Well, I did just that, however then my installation of Ubuntu 8.10 wouldn’t correctly step the processor up/down (because it had been configured with a Celeron, which doesn’t support those things).

Well, as I found out (somewhere on the Ubuntu forums), all you have to do is add “p4_clockmod” to your running modules (edit the file “/etc/modules” and place it at the end) and then restart.

Simple as pie. I’m quite surprised at the amount of speed switching this processor does — I’ve seen it step from 2.6 GHz to 2.2 GHz all the way down to 600 and 300 MHz. Amazing, and great for energy use and cooling, too.

Book Reviews

Songs of Distant Earth

Songs of Distant Earth

By Arthur C. Clarke

Ah, good ol’ Arthur C. Clarke.  Even though he’s no longer with us, his optimistic beliefs in what humanity will one day accomplish live on.

In the world of Songs of Distant Earth, humanity has spread to the stars (only a handful of stars, however) in order to escape the Earth’s sun going nova, around the year 3650.  Humanity has known about the imminent fate of the Sun since the early 21st century, but in true human fashion, it has dragged its ass over the ensuing millennium and a half, sending out a few probes and human “seeding” ships on slow-speed journeys to other habitable stars.

The story stars on a star seeded by one of these ships — an idyllic, ocean world, whose few land masses seem to have weather that makes them exactly like Hawaii. In other words, a nearly perfect world.

This world has been on its own for nearly 700 years, having been seeded in about the year 2700 or so — at first, it’s colonists communicated with the Earth, sending back progress reports and whatnot, but their main transmitter disc for the planet was damaged in an quake, and the totally laid-back colonists just never got around to fixing it.

Well, eventually a ship appears in their system, carring a million passengers from the last, wild days of Earth before the planet was destroyed by the sun going nova, and this beautiful laid-back planet gets its first bit of true strife and trouble.

But, you see — this is an Arthur C. Clarke book, so there’s not really any “bad guys,” and everybody generally gets along. I’m not trying to point this out as a downside — his books are still very enjoyable. (Mankind’s antagonist isn’t a singular evil figure in an Arthur C. Clarke book — his antagonist is usually just the “unknown” or something that needs to be “explored.”)

Though, usually his books end on a sad note — and I’m not just talking about the death of a character or anything simple like that.  When you’re done reading one of his books, you’re always left with the idea that man is just a small, small part in the entire canvas of the universe, and that no matter what we ever discover, or how many millions of years we’re here, after we’re gone (and we will eventually cease to be) the universe will continue to spin on, and on, nearly forever.

Really humbling, you know?  Seriously — get to the end of the Rama series and tell me you didn’t nearly want to weep (for all the second book’s shortcomings, the series was amazing, trust me).

Book Reviews

Book Review: Friday, Jewels of Aptor, and the Fall of the Towers


By Robert Heinlein

I’m guessing that there may have been a lot of hubbub around Heinlein’s Friday when it was released — the little blurbs on the back speak to me of how this is Heinlein’s first “strong” woman protagonist, etc., etc., etc….

Yeah, I don’t see it.  Not that the character of Friday in the book Friday isn’t a strong female character — she is — I just don’t see the need for it.  The character of Star in Glory Road was a pretty damn strong female character, wasn’t she?  I mean Jesus, she was [spoiler here] — isn’t that strong enough? Can you get any “stronger” of a lead than that?  And he wrote that book 20 years prior.

Either way — Friday‘s a good book.  The lead character is a genetically created artificial person — an “artifact,” as they’re referred to in the book.  No different than a regular human being, of course, besides the super-strength and intelligence and imperviousness to illnesses and so on.  She works as a “combat courier,” shuttling top secret intelligence and small items back and forth across the lines of security present in this world — a world in which the entire Earth has seemingly Balkanized, that is, where all nations have further split into other small nations, and no real power is held by anyone except for large, multi-national corporations.  Friday really doesn’t know who she works for, and doesn’t care, as long as she’s given the respect she feels she deserves, which she gets working for her shadowy employer.

Now, the book is not “hard” SF, but there’s two instances in which Heinlein’s description of a particular part of technology sounded real neat to me.

First was his description of a world without money — one totally reliant upon electronic credit and debit.  It was really neat and really relevant to the way we perform business today, but I can’t for the life of me remember what page it was on, so blegh.

The other was this passage, where our protagonist was describing her trip to a library for a bit of research:

There was no reason for any of us to be bored as we had full individual terminal service.  People are so used to the computer net today that it is easy to forget what a window to the world it can be — and I include myself.  One can grow so canalized in using a terminal only in certain ways — paying bills, making telephonic calls, listening to news bulletins — that one can neglect its richer uses.  If a subscriber is willing to pay for the service, almost anything can be done at a terminal that can be done out of bed.

Like music?  I could punch in a concert going on live in Berkeley this evening, but a concert given ten years ago in London, its conductor long dead, is just as “live,” just as immediate, as any listed on today’s program.  Electrons don’t care.  Once data of any sort go into the net, time is frozen.  All that is necessary is to remember that all the endless riches of the past are available any time you punch for them.

Do you see what he’s describing there?  It’s the bloody Internet.  Now, granted, computers were around in 1982, and there was some idea that they could be hooked together to form networks, but the idea of a world-spanning network with all knowledge that humanity has available at your fingertips wasn’t a realization until the modern day world wide web, circa 1996-1997 or so.

Oh, but that’s not all.  Listen to this:

That morning I was speed-searching the index of the Tulane University library (one of the best in the Lone Star Republic), looking for history of Old Vicksburg, when I stumbled onto a cross-reference to spectral types of stars and found myself hooked.  I don’t recall why there was such a cross-referral but these do occur for the most unlikely reasons.

I was still reading about the evolution of stars when Professor Perry suggested that we go to lunch.


That afternoon I got back to Old Vicksburg and was footnoted to Show Boat, a musical play concerning the era — and then spent the rest of the day looking at and listening to Broadway musical plays from the happy days before the North American Federation fell to pieces.  Why can’t they write music like that today?

If that’s not an eerily-exact description of what it’s like to get lost in Wikipedia today, I don’t know what is.  And Heinlein was writing about this kinda of thing back in 1982.

Anyway, it’s a damn good book, and one of the last Heinlein wrote before he sadly passed away in the later 80’s.

The Jewels of Aptor

By Samuel R. Delany

I picked up this book not realizing that it was actually Samuel R. Delany’s very first work he ever published.  And let me tell you, it’s different.  I mean, if you’re like me and very first stuff you ever read by Delany was Triton and “Aye, and Gomorrah.”

I’ll just break it down for you — no orgies, no gender-bending hypersexual roles, no sarcastic social commentary — just a pretty straightforward fantasy story taking place in a civilization long after a “Great Fire,” which I take to mean nuclear war.  That’s right — it’s actually fantasy, not really SF.  I mean, it’s not bad, just not what I was expecting.

You can see some of Delany’s later themes taking their first roots here, though.  It’s a short work, though, so definitely give it a read if you’re a fan.

The Fall of the Towers

By Samuel R. Delany

The Fall of the Towers is actually a saga of three books that Delany wrote early in his career, too — right after The Jewels of Aptor, early 60’s.   It’s kinda like Jewels in that it’s kinda of a “serious” work — however, I really, really liked this one.

Taking place far in the future, somewhere (could be Earth, though it might not be), after another apocalyptic event has razed the planet and most of humanity has returned back to primitive roots.  There exists three distinct species of human in these days.  One is a squat, primitive, short form of human, a little over 1.5 m high, with very low intelligence;  these are called “neandrathals” by the characters of the book.  Next is regular humans — I don’t need to describe these, hopefully.  Finally, the final form of human present in this world is a quiet, extremely tall (2.5 m or more) form of human whom the “regular” humans call “forest guards,” due to their likeness for living in the vast forests present on this world.

The Fall of the Towers is an extremely long tale (not so much in words, but in depth), full of multiple themes and plots — far, far too many to go into here.  Just know that the main theme is that of the city (and empire) of Toromon — an extremely advanced city that has somehow escaped the apocalypse to reign supreme over whatever parts of the planet not rendered unlivable by vast amounts of radiation — and its eventual fall from grace due to corruption and “societal decay,” I guess you’d call it.

The book largely follows the lives of three characters — an escaped prisoner, a Duchess of one of the royal families of Toromon, and a forest guard with telepathic abilities.  They are being used as agents by an unknown entity in its fight against a being called the “Lord of the Flames.”

Somewhat present thoughout the series, but especially in the third book, is a very, very strong anti-war message.  And not just any “war is bad message,” but a Orwell-esque message about how war is sometimes used by very successful civilizations in order to “use up” surpluses of goods and money that could otherwise be used to improve upon its peoples’ lives.

Trust me — I’m barely scratching the surface of this book.  It’s actually really, really good, even if it’s an “earlier” Delany work and somewhat surprised me.

Book Reviews

Book Reviews: Glory Road and Dark is the Sun

Glory Road

By Robert Heinlein

Glory Road was a fun little book by Heinlein.  The entire book was written in his favorite first-person-narrator-who’s-sarcastic-as-hell style and spans about 200 pages or so.  It follows the tale of a young Korean War vet (you can glean this easily from the story) who’s soon whisked away to another universe/dimension by a woman he meets on a nude beach in France.  Ah, classic Heinlein.

The woman, accompanied by a squire of some sort, seems determined to name our narrator her “champion” to do various acts of bravery and assist her in certain quests.  And for the first half or so of the book, that’s about it.

But… the last third or so is completely different, and features the narrator and his Lady settling down — the book loses its lighthearted touch by this point and becomes very serious and downright depressing, as you’ll see.  But there, I’ve told enough. :P

I love reading Heinlein’s novels simply for the writing style, though — his books are some of the first ones I try to recommend to non-SF readers.

Dark is the Sun

By Philip Jose Farmer

This book still befuddles me now, even after a month or two of reading it.  I can’t tell if it was a translation or not (I don’t think Philip Jose Farmer is foreign, though I’m not sure — Spanish, maybe?), but it sure reads like one.

The sentence structure is strange, the character development is weird, the story seems to jump around here and there — I really don’t know what to make of it.  Anyone know?

The story has a neat backstory, though — taking place something like billions of years in the future, during the time of the Big Crunch, it features mankind in its last stages of existence, a broken people returned to tribal ways, worshipping old gods that haven’t been seen in years.

Even though reading this book could be a chore, I loved the amazing world that Farmer created — on this dying Earth are relics from billions of years of science and development.  You’re constantly discovering the relics of lost civilizations that have risen, and fallen, and risen back again.

Book Reviews

Quick Book Reviews: Part Three

The Sparrow

Mary Doria Russel

Like Perdido Street Station, I found this book from a list on the site (can’t remember the exact article) — some of the books I had read, and some I had never heard of before.  This was one of the latter, but most of the comments on the article spoke highly of it, so I went out on a limb and bought it.

Turns out it’s not bad — man’s first contact with interstellar life is received in the form of radio signals emanating somewhere around the Alpha Centauri system (conveniently close).  Whilst the UN and other worldly bodies are dickering around about what to do, the Catholic Church is actually quickest to the punch, organizing a mission (composed of Jesuits and some scientists) to encounter whoever or whatever is now living on those planets.

Oh, but that’s just how it starts.  The problem of near-light speed travel is actually solved by easier means than you think (just use an asteroid as your ship, and keep using its fuel to slowly accelerate you to near-light speed travel, turn around halfway, and decelerate), and with relativity the time passed by the people on the ship is only about 10 months, even though something like 20 years passes by on Earth (it’s amazing how the universe works, isn’t it?).

The story is told partly in the “present” (the goings-on of the landing party) and partly in the future by the only surviving member, a Puerto Rican priest.  He hasn’t aged more than a few years, though nearly 40 years have gone by on Earth, and he’s since returned to Earth.  However, he’s not well received, and is currently being softly interrogated by his fellow Jesuits on Earth.

Apparently, the landing trip didn’t go so well, and this  is slowly revealed through both the present-tense storytelling and the future.

Also, this book has one of the most fucked-up endings imaginable.  Luckily, it has a sequel, and I’m going to get it eventually.

(Seriously, my review of  this book sucks.  Read it if you get the chance — it’s not hard SF, and is very enjoyable.)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Philip K. Dick

The book that the movie Bladerunner was based off of.  It’s only loosely connected, as usual — they both have androids.  The main character hunts them.  That’s about where the similarity ends.

Good book, though, if short.  Earth is a dying world in the book (the result of nuclear wars), and everything is decaying and falling apart — not quite the bustling economy is present as was in the movie. :P