Monthly Archives: July 2009

McCuff – A Motorcycle Tank Filling Aid

Not all technology that is cool has to be high tech.  If you have ever spilled gasoline all over your expensive (even relatively speaking) motorcycle because of arguing with the gas nozzle… there is apparently an answer!

I don’t have one yet… but I’m sure getting one!  The technology here is defeating the vapor recovery boot.  This is also a safety on the pump to prevent accidental spills.  For anything that doesn’t have a filler pipe, this boot is inconvenient (saying that politely).

The McCuff “defeats” the boot and also acts a little as a funnel.  Very nice.

Virtual Machines and Testing

Virtual machines have to be one of the best inventions to test other operating systems or other versions of operating systems.  I use them daily as a way to have different versions of software available under conditions where that would not ordinarily be possible (e.g., I can’t have v5 and v6 running on the same machine).  For personal use they are great for giving a test drive to things like software in the Alpha or Beta version of an OS, or, as I am doing now, testing the resolution emulation of a netbook so I can get an idea of the tolerability of the screen size.

This would be one of my plans for testing Linux more so I don’t have to mess up my host machine.  VMs are safe to run, and what happens in the VM stays in the VM…

So, about the netbook resolution.  First, I was impressed that Kubuntu kept up with the virtual monitor resizing.  I tried to beat xrandr and the basic X11 configuration into stepping down to 1024×576.  No dice, x600 was all it would do.  Then I found the setting in VMware Workstation to tell it that the virtual monitor was 1024×576.  Without a fuss, Kubuntu started and here it is.

The size is a little cramped, but if all I was doing was writing, email, light web browsing, and maybe listening to some music — no problem.  The keyboard size seems to be the one remaining issue that I need to (ab)use a retail store for so I can touch computers with relatively the same keyboard sizing — if not the exact.

So… VMs:  cool.  1024×576:  cramped but tolerable.

MP3 Players and Small Storage

I have a feeling we are definitely on the cusp of a storage revolution.  HDDs are at 1TB now.   SSD is retailing with diverse selection at 64GB, 126GB, and 256GB; 512GB is available, but absurdly priced.  Portable MP3 players are almost all using SSD storage and only a few hold-outs (like Apple) recognize that some people want an arsenal of music with them, not just a select set of their overall collection

I have been strongly thinking about getting away from the iPod (different story, different post), but my better senses are telling me to wait (blah blah… so is my wallet… blah blah).  I have a feeling that in a year there won’t be any HDD-based portable MP3 players any more and SSD will be reasonably affordable at “arsenal” capacity.

Possible New Server

I might have need for a new “server” if certain plans go well (which would involve working part-time from an island).  I spec’d out parts, and I cannot believe what $750 can get these days.

  • small form factor, bare bones LGA775 system
  • DVD Burner
  • 19″ 1440×900 monitor
  • 640 GB HDD
  • 4 GB RAM (DDR2 800)
  • Intel Core2 Duo Wolfdale 2.93GHz
  • GeForce 8600GT

Amazing!  This is why I buy parts.  With the exception of the memory, I think that outstrips my current machine of which I am usually very proud!  Of course, a year from now I’ll look at this and some of it will be out of date.  Such is the way of technology.  But for something to run one or two VMs on, and also use as a music machine, this is “super duper”.

Of course, no purchases have been made yet.  Once plans happen, surely the technology will have changed… again!

To Netbook or Notebook

Netbooks have become increasingly more powerful since their initial debut.  Some sport the Intel Atom Z530 (1.6GHz), 2GB of RAM, 320GB HDDs, and 1280×800 screens with decent clarity.  That also overlooks extras like integrated Webcams, ability to output to an HD monitor (some with an HDMI port), surprisingly decent graphics cards, bluetooth, and Wireless-N.

There are still a few significant detractors:

  1. small keyboards.  The best have a 92% scale keyboard.
  2. single-core, slow(er) processor.  I enjoy my pow-ah.
  3. not all have my ideal minimum resolution of 1280×800.  Most are ‘x768, some are even smaller.
  4. for just a little bit more money ($100 – $300 depending…) you can get an Intel dual-core, 15″ laptop with more memory, more power, more HDD space, a DVD drive, better graphics, and a better sound card.  Tempting, no?

The decision seems to have come down to “ultimate portability” or “good portability” as long as I am not talking about massive code compilations, running VMs, playing games, etc.   I don’t mind a 15″ laptop.  I used to have a 17″ for work, and the current 15″ laptops are much lighter than the HP ze5500 I am keeping alive.  (Of all my machines, THAT one should be Frankenstein…).

With my upcoming move to Verizon, I will be receiving a coupon to the HP store.  I get to make a decision.  For the coupon plus about $100 I can get a netbook with decent specs.  What I REALLY dislike about the HP netbook is that the height is the worst in all the market:  1024×576.  That is even more claustrophobic than the postage stamp, sub-quarter-acre my house is on.  OR I can use the coupon plus about another $300 and get a laptop:  15.6″ HD 1366×768, dual core, lots of memory, etc., etc., etc.

I have a desktop for all of my “power computing”.  I think what I need to figure out is exactly what I plan to do on a netbook, and is 1024×576 good enough for my uses, or is it too confining and potentially insanity inducing.  This is where a VM can come in handy.  I can fake that screen size and see what it is like.

My OS thoughts are no surprise.  I can actually get the laptop with an HP supported Linux mobile remix.  I would quickly convert that to either the Ubuntu Netbook-remix, or straight-up Kubuntu 9.04 32bit.  Some quick searching has revealed that is decently supported on this netbook (and the notebook I am pondering).

If I am going to use it for mobility, writing, surfing, email, and pretty much nothing else, I guess the question comes down to living with the resolution.  The price difference plays in here (I think we have established that I can be cheap) as does simple tech-lust:  the Netbook is the neat new technology, I have the ability, I wanty.

The one, maybe one, significant extra factor is that a notebook could become my “TV computer” — the thing I can hookup to the television in the living room for the rare times we want to watch something streaming.  But, again… rare times.  I’m not a complete Hulu convert yet.

“What to do.  What to do.” — Q’s Mother

M4A Music Files, Linux, and Amarok

By choice, these files have some issues under Ubuntu.  There is “something” about the origins of M4A that disagree with the Ubuntu (and Debian) mission statement/s.  So, some manual steps need to be taken to get proper playback.

If I remember correctly, Amarok 1.4.9 did not play M4A files at all.  This appears to have been fixed under 1.4.10.  That is nice.  However, the tags are not read correctly, nor can they be updated — that is not so nice.  So, to get Amarok to read these tags, some manual compilation is necessary.

It is actually not as hard as it sounds once all of the necessary information is aggregated from “umpteen” different sources.  I’m strongly tempted to simply put together a shell script to do this.  I wouldn’t be able to verify it on all systems, but with adequate embedded comments, the ambitious person would be enabled to coerce it to work on their system, assuming it needed coercion.

(1)  Downloading the sources from the Amarok site and using the command-line is essential.

(2) The commands end up being quite easy.   It assumes (a) the source has been downloaded, (b) the source has been extracted (tar xvfj amarok-1.4.10.tar.bz2) into a directory, and (c) you are in said directory.

$ sudo apt-get build-dep amarok
$ sudo apt-get install libmp4v2-dev libfaad-dev libavcodec1d libavutil1d libfaac0 libgsm1 liblame0 libpostproc1d libxine1-ffmpeg libxvidcore4 libfaad0 libmp4v2-0 libmpeg4ip-0 libmpeg4ip-dev
$ ./configure --enable-mysql --enable-postgresql --with-libmtp --with-libgpod --with-mp4v2
===  Amarok - PLUGINS  ========================================================
= The following extra functionality will NOT be included:
=   - NMM-engine
=   - Helix-engine
=   - yauap-engine
=   - Rio Karma Support
= The following extra functionality will be included:
=   + xine-engine
=   + libvisual Support
=   + MySql Support
=   + Postgresql Support
=   + Konqueror Sidebar
=   + MusicBrainz Support
=   + MP4/AAC Tag Write Support
=   + iPod Support
=   + iRiver iFP Support
=   + Creative Nomad Jukebox Support
=   + MTP Device Support
=   + DAAP Music Sharing Support
Good - your configure finished. Start make now
$ make
$ sudo make install

Note these lines, the presence of the “+” is very important:

=   + MP4/AAC Tag Write Support
=   + iPod Support

No plus, no functionality.

This worked under Kubuntu 8.10.1 using KDE 3.5.10.  This does not work under Kubuntu 9.04 using KDE 4.2.2.  I am going to wait for Amarok 2.2 to come out and see what improvements have happened.  My compelling reason to do this at this point would be to get my “smart playlists” back along with better M4A support.  Amarock 2 has M4A support (though buggy in 2.1.x) playlists and dynamic playlists, but they seem to have not understood the value of smart playlists and how the way they worked in KDE 3.5.x / Amarok 1.4.x was good.  I understand “radical new version, radical new features”, but I consider the absence of these a deal-breaker at this point.

I hope to update this post later when I get a successful compile of Amarok 1.4.10 under Kubuntu 9.04.

One Year with the iPhone

I’m short by about a month, but who is counting.  iHave (har har) the iPhone 3G which is the second generation iPhone.  So far, I have been reasonably satisfied with AT&T’s coverage finding only a few places where it either is not great or does not work.  But those places don’t matter.

I can’t say I’m a huge “iPhone Application” person, and I use it for phone calls, email, some web surfing, limited music, and odd amusement (like tetris…).

Of course, I need to passingly gripe that Linux hackers haven’t found a way to talk to the iPhone yet.  I can’t even get it to be recognized by a Windows VM running under Linux.  Boo!  But I have my work machine which runs Windows, therefore iTunes, and all can be as well as it can be.  I want to note, for those who might misunderstand, that I don’t hold this as a fault of the phone.  The protocol of talking to the phone is pretty clearly proprietary and Apple is at their discretion about sharing it — they choose not to, and that’s their business.  Thus far, Linux hackers have been able to keep up with the iPod protocol changes, but there is something special about the iPhone that hasn’t been figured out yet.  This digression shall now detour back to the main topic…

As a phone, it has been okay though better than any I have had in the past.  The only significantly missing feature is voice dialing which is now in the iPhone 3GS.  I find the controls to be reasonably easy to use when driving, so even though doing so is “bad driving”, it isn’t like groping around with a flip-phone or similar.  Perhaps my only complaint is the big red “End Call” button which I so often mistake for “mute”.  I suppose that is muting after a fashion…

As an email device, it has been pretty darn good, especially with the 3.x version of the iPhone OS.  The addition of being able to rotate the screen on any screen, and highlight, copy, cut, and paste text is absolutely great.  I like the full screen view, with the virtual keyboard popping up only if I’m composing a message; furthermore, being able to rotate the screen makes composing messages much better than before.

As a web browser, it is tolerable.  I think the slow speed is more a product of the graphics and script heavy sites that are built now.

As a music player, I find the quality to be better than my iPod.  I like the cover browser, so that easily entertains me when I look for music.  I recently upgraded the radio in my car and specifically chose one that works with the iPhone and the union of the two is pretty nice.

I haven’t really dug into any apps that have revolutionized my life.  So I have little to say there.

At this point, given all that, I have to wonder if keeping it past my contract (another year) is worth the expense.  While the service is for business, the cost of it still offends me.  As a device it is decent, but AT&T is making it quite pricey to make it worth the cost.

This is the kind of thing Apple does really well, in my opinion.  The iPod was a revolution in portable MP3 players, and I think their advances, particularly with the iPod Touch, have been leaps ahead of everyone else.  The iPhone set the bar for what a smart phone really should be, and everyone else is playing catchup.  I believe others will catchup, so it will be very interesting to see what is on the market next year.  Of course… it will also be very interesting to see what kind of extortion the cell phone companies will be asking for the privilege of Internet access via a smart phone.