Sunday, December 27, 2009

computers: the heck of Linux audio, the hell of documenting it

For no apparent reason sound stopped playing in certain applications on my computer.

I'm running the Kubuntu flavor (incorporating the KDE Plasma Desktop) of the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, which makes certain decisions about how sound should be configured. But I've also installed latest Firefox and Thunderbird and the Flash plug-in and the VLC media player; these make their own decisions about how to play sounds. Kubuntu appears to provide an audio "software stack" consisting of the following layers: hardware audio drivers, the ALSA low-level Linux interface to audio, the PulseAudio server to mix audio streams and talk to different hardware, and KDE's Phonon audio abstraction. That's complicated enough, but great minds can and do disagree if this is the best approach to audio; some people think audio should be simpler, some think it should support playing across the network to your Bluetooth headset when you walk into the garden and automatically switch to 5.1 surround sound if you login to your friend's home PC. Those disagreements result in multiple software packages and approaches to audio. So somehow some piece of software additionally installed the GStreamer multimedia framework and the esound daemon on my computer. And each of these layers can be configured to talk to, bypass, or emulate the other layers, so maybe I have an emulation of OSS or JACK or some other software approach. Each program tries to detect what's available and use the right approach, but each program and layer can be configured to use different layers. Who knows where the problem is? Who knows what the right solution is?

Each one of these programs and packages has sound-related documentation. But each doesn't know how my system is configured, so their instructions are inadequate, incomplete, or wrong.

So I search for "ubuntu sound problems". One of the results is "Comprehensive Sound Problem Solutions Guide", even though it was written in 2006! And it has 1,680 follow-up comments! Another search result confidently instructs you to remove the PulseAudio sound engine altogether, even though it's what Kubuntu uses. Another tells you how to compile source programs to add sound support, even though Kubuntu came with dozens of sound packages and other programs have installed many more. Most instructions tell you to make unexplained undocumented changes to configuration files, even though there are configuration dialog boxes in Kubuntu and it attempts to configure itself correctly without these files.

The documentation is spread everywhere; Google rewards the oldest most out-of-date information; reasonable people don't agree on how it should work. I'm probably screwed. If and when I figure out how to fix my problem I would love to improve the "Linux sound documentation", but in what form (bug report, forum post, wiki page, web page, built-in help) for which component or layer or distribution? Agggggghh.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

TV, computers: the future of video

I've got some big video files I want to watch on my TV: a Joanna Newsom concert, the Chinese Olympics opening ceremony I struggled to download, and the banned Karen Carpenter biopic made with Barbie dolls.
  • I could buy a 16GB USB flash drive, copy the files, and stick it in the Samsung TV. But the Samsung supports very few (if any?) video formats.
  • Instead, the storage device holding the video files could output TV. LG actually makes such a device, the LG XF1, a 500 GB hard drive with HDMI out. It even comes with a remote.
  • I could transfer the files to my Playstation 3 which is permanently hooked up to the TV.
  • I could try turning one of our computers into a media server that the Playstation can access.
  • I could cart my laptop over to the TV and plug it in.
If you give the storage device drive an LCD display, then it replaces the portable DVD player. Portable Media Players like the iPod do this; with a base station they can output to a TV.

My understanding is that Apple's system still revolves around managing files on your computer in iTunes. But if the video file storage device has a display you can expose its computer ability and let the thing do its own downloading and file management. You can even plug it a USB TV tuner so that it can replace the VCR.

The question is whether these mini video file players will be a PMP, a smartphone, or a tiny netbook. Maybe all three will bloom. If it needs a dock to connect to your TV then you'll want a remote control, which is strange now that remotes are like touchscreen phones.

It sounds like Nvidia is thinking this way with their Tegra chip set, which only consumes a few watts even when decoding and outputting HD video. Since it doesn't run Intel's x86 instruction set it won't run desktop Windows. You'd think that makes it the perfect candidate for a micro netbook running Linux, but instead Microsoft's Zune HD is going to use it, and so maybe as a result Nvidia isn't promoting Linux on it.
Archos 7 in DVR cradle
The device I'm envisioning has been around for a while in the Archos series of "heavy-duty" portable media players. They offer a cradle with HDMI out, and even a remote with keyboard to drive the touch-screen device from across the room, yet they've had little success. Maybe I'm missing something.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

computers: Linux update (I'm stuck with it)

I trashed my Windows partition — long story, still haven't given up — so I'm typing this in Firefox in the Kubuntu (K Desktop Environment on Linux) free software I fortunately had installed earlier. Sound still screeches, but apart from that I don't really notice, since I found 64-bit nightly Firefox builds.

KDE is just a nice panel strip and Kickoff menu below my browser windows ;-). (And someday, the promise of KDE's Nepomuk/Strigi/whatever semantic technologies, should Kubuntu ever deign to turn it on and explain it to me.)

Apparently Firefox integrates better with other Linux distributions, so maybe I shouldn't have used this one.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

computers: William Gibson nailed avatars and online worlds, missed with cyberspace

I just set up a Mii and wandered into PlayStation Home (and quickly out again).

It reminds me how prescient William Gibson was about avatars in an online social space. In an almost throwaway passage in his masterpiece Count Zero
A square of cyberspace directly in front of him flipped sickeningly and he found himself in a pale blue graphic that seemed to represent a very spacious apartment, low shapes of furniture sketched in hair-fine lines of blue neon. A woman stood in front of him, a sort of glowing cartoon squiggle of a woman, the face a brown smudge.

“I'm Slide,” the figure said, hands on its hips, “Jaylene. You don't fuck with me. Nobody in L.A.” she gestured, a window suddenly snapping into existence behind her “fucks with me. You got that?”

“Right,” Bobby said. “What is this? I mean, if you could sort of explain.” He still couldn't move. The "window" showed a blue-gray video view of palm trees and old buildings.

“How do you mean?”

“This sort of drawing. And you. And that old picture.”

“Hey, man, I paid a designer an arm and a leg to punch this up for me. This is my space, my construct. This is L.A., boy. People here don't do anything without jacking. This is where I entertain!”
This was from 1986, a year before the Habitat video game and a decade before Neal Stephenson got all the credit with Snowcrash. Wow.

Instead Gibson gets infinite credit for cyberspace, but that article's "Visionary influence and prescience" section doesn't seem to admit that Gibson's cyberspace isn't remotely how it has turned out. We don't fly between geometric representations of data hubs by frantically tapping access code on a hot-rod deck, we simply type in a URL or click a link. We don't see any representation of cyberspace during navigation at all. We don't jack in at all, we watch a conventional screen. Even when we use Virtual reality, it is something that takes place within a URL or site. Here is Bobby the wannabe's understanding of the matrix from Count Zero a few pages earlier:
He'd used decks in school, toys that shuttled you through the infinite reaches of that space that wasn't space, mankind's unthinkably complex consensual hallucination, the matrix, cyberspace, where the great corporate hotcores burned like neon novas, data so dense you suffered sensory overload if you tried to apprehend more than the merest outline.
To give you an idea of how different navigating the internet is from the mechanisms of Gibson's matrix, here is someone guiding Bobby to hack into the Yakuza via a back door
“When you punch out past the Basketball,” Jammer said to Bobby, “you wanna dive right three clicks and go for the floor, I mean straight down.”
“Past the what?”
“Basketball. That's the Dallas-Fort Worth Sunbelt Co-Prosperity Sphere, you wanna get your ass down fast, all the way, then you run how I told you, for about twenty clicks. It's all used-car lots and tax accountants down there, but just stand on that mother, okay?”
Bobby jacked.
He followed Jammer's instructions, secretly grateful that he could feel Jackie beside him as they plunged down into the workaday depths of cyberspace, the glowing Basketball dwindling above them. The deck was quick, superslick, and it made him feel fast and strong.
(these "clicks" seem to be distances, not buttons).

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

computers: sort-of switching to Linux

My key software applications, the Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client, are cross-platform. I do all my command-line work in a Cygwin bash shell, which implements UNIX command-line tools in Windows. I've used Linux and Solaris at work for years, and occasionally fiddle with my Linux-based One Laptop Per Child XO-1. I don't pay the unneccessary Microsoft Office tax. I'm not playing any computer games right now.

So I should be a perfect candidate to switch to Linux. Knowing this, I've left unused partitions on my Windows computers for an eventual Linux install.

I took the plunge a week ago on this desktop PC. At boot I can choose to start up Kubuntu Linux running KDE 4.2.2! It's handsome and full-featured, and it's easy to install thousands of free programs. But I'm typing this from Windows XP.

Installation went OK, nearly everything worked, and after entering a complicated command once I can access documents and music from my Windows C: drive. But getting from 90% working to 95% took several evenings, and I may never get to that final 5%.
the desktop made sound, but Flash videos were silent
(I found the magic incantation to make low-level audio prefer my sound card.)
no cutting-edge Firefox
(I finally found a special 64-bit nightly build.)
no Thunderbird 3
Supposedly there's a 64-bit build somewhere.
no Quicken
I guess I have to install WINE windows support
display corruption
install a different video driver?
background music or Flash sound turns into horrible screech the moment I load a new window
don't use my fancy sound card?!
locks up about once a day
more to come
I wrote separately on my choice and installation of Kubuntu; the gory details of the problems I continue to overcome are at http://userbase.kde.org/User:Skierpage.

My biggest let-down from my theoretical love for Linux and open source software to the reality was in software installation and update. Virtually everything that runs on Linux is freely redistributable, so as I've noted one installer can install any piece of software from a choice of thousands, and keep everything you've installed up-to-date! But the graphical installer lacks features, there are literally dozens of package installation programs (people on IRC told me to use apt, aptitude, dpkg, synaptic, adept, ...), and nothing keeps a history of "Thursday at 1am you installed package random_lib.3.14 because a stranger on chat thought it would make sound work." The killer feature is a maze and a mess.

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software: installing Linux details

I could have compiled the Linux kernel and utilities from scratch, but decided to start with a distribution: a compiled set of programs with an installer that people have tested and believe work well together.

Linux allows a choice of window system environments. I've followed the progress of the K Desktop Environment for years. I've even installed it on Windows (which brings to mind Samuel Johnson's quotation, it “is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well [yet]; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” So I knew I wanted KDE.

Ubuntu is known for being a popular GNU/Linux distribution, and it has a variant Kubuntu that ships KDE as its desktop.

The good I downloaded the CD-ROM image for Kubuntu 9.04 in mere minutes over BitTorrent, burned it onto CD-ROM, and rebooted. The CD-ROM lets you run Kubuntu from the CD-ROM or install it onto your hard drive. I chose the latter. But the installer itself is a full Linux installation! You're running a graphical desktop, your mouse works. I clicked the link for _Release notes_ and a web browser started up and went to a web site. So if the installer works you can be confident that graphics, input, and networking are going to work.

Woes I had left an empty partition for a Linux install, but at some point formatted it for Windows because I got tired of Windows' disk check complaining about it. That confused the installer, I couldn't tell it "Put Linux on D: and give me a dual-boot system." But I was able to fire up an IRC client in the browser in the installer and visit the #kubuntu IRC channel to ask strangers for help, where an insanely helpful person named "firefishe" took me through configuring /dev/sda1. My disk problems meant that the alleged migration assistant that would transfer my settings from Windows didn't run.

GoodUpon reboot I was running KDE! The desktop is handsome and rich.

OK I was able to access my Windows C: drive and all my document, though the installer didn't set it up and the command to do so is very arcane.


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Monday, March 9, 2009

CD and digital music reminiscing

Gizmodo remarked on the (sort-of) 30th anniversary of the CD format, prompting the following reverie (and also more begging for a downloadable "golden master tape" format):

a) There were no consumer cd burners available until something like a 15 years later.

You're right. I worked at a PC multimedia chip company in 1994. We had a $3000 2X Yamaha CD burner to make CDs of software releases and developer kits. If you so much as looked at it funny you'd get an under-run and the CD-R was worthless. It could duplicate a music CD, but with the blanks costing $10, why would you? Sony and Philips must have known bootleggers would eventually copy CDs, but as with vinyl and cassettes, you send cops with sledgehammers after that crime.

To show off our chip's audio quality we wanted to get a high-quality audio sample. This was in the day when 8-bit sound cards were the norm, the sample.WAV files in Windows played "boinnggg" noises, and at best CD-ROM drives had an analog audio connection to the sound card. So we rigged up a SCSI CD-ROM drive to an Adaptec controller, used special ASPI commands to read the 1s and 0s off a music CD, and converted them to a .WAV file that was the same song. There was no name for this process, this was seven years before Apple's "Rip. Mix. Burn" ads and 4 years before the first MP3 players. The resulting file was an unimaginable 17MB long.

I knew at the time it was going to be a huge deal. Not that we had made a copy — you could already do that with cassettes. The original song was divorced from any kind of media, turning it into a computer file that could be duplicated and manipulated at will. Eventually, a computer with a huge hard drive could be a jukebox. Many companies realized this sea change, they predicted and eventually came out with a hard drive music player for the trunk of your car, a hard drive music player for your home, etc. (I don't recall anyone predicting the dominant model of carrying your music collection with you in an iPod.)

This "home copying" to a computer didn't feel like piracy, any more than making cassettes of your albums for your car was piracy. Napster arrived 5 years later in 1999. Massive piracy required the confluence of music CD ripping, the Internet, and faster-than-dialup connectivity plus MP3 compression. The whole must have been completely unimaginable to Sony and Philips engineers in 1979.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

computers: old storage media

Remember 3.5" floppies? Here are 90 of them, free for the taking.
90 3.5" floppies plus a 5.25" floppy and a 2GB microSD card
Ignore the “2.0 MB” label, these actually store about 1.44 MB. So that stack represents all of 132 MB, or less than a fifth of a CD-ROM. I remember when these first came out for the Mac and cost $10 each.

Those floppies are junk, you can't even give them away. I consolidated the information from them to a few MB on a network drive. Many were backup and transit disks (so-called "sneakernet") with only slight differences between directories and files. I couldn't find a good tool to help me consolidate them. I wanted a split view explorer that would show floppy details (including bootable or not, DOS version, hidden files, etc.) in one pane and in the other pane intelligently search a hard drive for likely matching files and directories. Probably a DOS version of such a tool was on one of the floppies!

Several of them are installation disks for nifty integrated phone answering machine +FAX software like Ring Zero and QuickLink that came with modems. Back then the mental stumbling block was “Your computer can be your telephone,” just as now the stumbling block is “Your computer can be your TV.”

The disk in the IBM sleeve on the left is a 5.25" floppy from 1983 or so that stores 360KB. I have several dozen of those I still need to archive. I also have an 8" floppy with some documents I made on an IBM Displaywriter, plus a 3.5" magneto-optical disk, a Jaz disk, and a Sun 1/4-inch cartridge. Compared with the 80s and 90s, we are in a period of incredible media stability.

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computers: relentless storage progress

Here's the picture from my old storage media post.
90 3.5" floppies plus a 5.25" floppy and a 2GB microSD card
That speck on top is a 2GB microSD memory card for my phone.

close-up of 2GB microSD cardIt holds 1,360 of these floppies, or a stack 15 times taller (4.5 meters—14 feet tall!). Or 5,555 times more than the 5.25" “IBM” floppy in the picture.

When you just switch letter prefixes around you lose sight that 2 gigabytes is an insane number. It's roughly 2000× a megabyte, 2000000× a kilobyte. 2,000,000,000 characters! If you write pure ASCII text, you could never, ever fill it up. But of course the computer industry finds a way to inflate simple sequences of letters. The text of my post on old floppies was only 1,647 characters; Blogger turned into a 16,000 byte web page; it's 100,000 bytes including the two images; it would have been 4,200,000 bytes if I had used the original photos instead of resizing them for the Web. If I had made this a presentation in evil Microsoft PowerPoint it could easily be 1,000,000 bytes. If I had made a video zooming in from the pile of floppies to show just the memory card, it would have hit 100,000,000 bytes. But it wouldn't be 10,000 times more information.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

computers: Gave one, getting one OLPC

The OLPC Give one get one site went live, so I forked over my $400. According to the inspiring OLPC weekly news, mass production has started. I should get my XO in December.

The anti-fan boys who want this project to fail are so depressing, because they're busy telling other people what to do with their charitable impulses while sitting on their asses typing negative statements, doing f***-all themselves. So listen up, anti-fan boys, responding to some of of your negative points:
  • “third-world kids need food and shelter”
    True for some kids in crisis, so leave this site right now and go to CARE or the Red Cross and give them your $200. But if you weren't so patronizingly unaware, you'd realize there are hundreds of millions of children who have food and shelter but poor education and little opportunity for advancement.
  • “they should focus on seed programs/health/clean water/whatever”
    It's not a zero-sum game. Some talented computer engineers are applying their skills to developing a free and open-source learning computer. If you dicks waved your magic wand and shut this project down, their talents wouldn't magically breed super crops or cure malaria. Meanwhile, where are you applying your limited talents?
  • “kids need to learn the standard platform, i.e. Windows, so all this engineering effort is a waste”
    Go volunteer to teach MS Windows and MS Office computer skills to the poor in your area. Meanwhile, let this project deliver to grade school children a software and hardware platform optimized for learning, and we'll all see what happens. The geeked-out hardware and software efforts have already inspired the development of lots of open source courseware and learning materials.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

computers: Thinkpad dock, applications, Norton

The new Thinkpad T61 laptop computer for my domestic partner other significant arrived. It's quiet and well-designed.

Its dock is great. Unlike port replicators that require drivers to route signals, the Thinkpad actually brings out the wires, so it's purely hardware and the external video can run at high resolution. Push a button, turn a key and the keyboard, mouse, monitor, printer, microphone, speakers, and Ethernet on the desk all connect/disconnect when you dock/undock.

Getting Vista to cooperate with my network and other computers was so awful that I blogged it separately.

I copied over my Dreamweaver and Fireworks applications and pasted in their registry settings, but they complain about missing libraries and fail to export files. The applications that migrated flawlessly were Mozilla SeaMonkey e-mail+browser and Bitpim phone sync, both open source. Simply download the latest version of the app, install it on the new computer, and copy over one data directory. All the effort commercial software companies waste on license checking, registry keys, and serial numbers doesn't add any value to their product and makes it hard to migrate.

The Norton Internet Security that Lenovo provided fought me all the way. Its firewall rules allows "local" file sharing, but its idea of "local" is to hardcode some common private network addresses that routers use by default (192.168.1, 192.168.11, etc.). However I had set my router to a non-standard network address for compatibility with work. Is Norton smart enough to determine or ask you what your local network's address is? Is Norton's configuration able to label an address range as "my home network" so you can reuse it in rules without having to manually change every single one? Will Norton prompt you when its general rules block Windows operations? No, no, damn you Symantec, NO! Networking just fails and you waste hours checking cabling and routers and other computers.

Lenovo has some additions to Vista that just confuse things. Their network security lets you enable/disable "Windows firewall", but it seems Norton Internet Security's firewall runs anyway. They have a network places manager, but it mostly confuses things with another network icon in the system tray. They have a Thinkvantage security center that keeps starting up, with its own upgrade service that didn't work.

Likewise, Intel graphics adds its own monitor control. So there's the Thinkvantage software to choose a layout when you plug in an external monitor, Intel's software to set up your graphics, and Vista's display appearance control panel. They're all covering the same ground! Yet their help explains their relationship to the other competing software.

If this were Linux open source, Intel and Lenovo would modify and extend Microsoft's O.S. code for network management and multiple monitors, they wouldn't have to reinvent it. Any improvements or bug fixes they make would show up in the core software, benefiting everyone.

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computers: a Vista of pain

I'm sure Microsoft Windows Vista is OK if you have no other equipment, or if everything else you have is less than three years old. Getting Vista to work on my mixed network and with my existing software has been awful:
  • gratuitous DHCP incompatibility with older routers
  • switch to Link-Layer Topology Discovery broke Network Neighborhood
  • Windows XP can't see printer attached to Vista.
  • stupid incompatibility with NTLM v1 authentication broke file sharing with NAS and XP
  • older USB drivers won't install
  • HP scanner incompatible (a $40 third-party driver is available)
  • Office 2000 mail merge broken
  • Windows Address Book change breaks Outlook 2000
There are hacks and registry settings and workarounds for most of this, but it was a miserable four day slog and I seriously considered demanding a downgrade from Lenovo. However, Microsoft will drop XP eventually so you suffer the upgrade incompatibility pain now or suffer it later.

Other software and hardware vendors go along with the gratuitous incompatibilities Vista introduces, because it's their big chance to sell new hardware and software. Gratuitous obsolescence hurts consumers but companies love it.

Compared with XP, Vista is slow to boot and slow to go in/out of standby. The Thinkpad has 2GB of memory and a fast drive and doesn't seem to have a lot of crapware on it, so I blame the O.S.

So far the only nice thing about Vista is its additional metadata fields. A view of a folder full of images can track the date taken and camera details and has tags and star ratings, so you don't need an image manager like Canon's ZoomBrowser. The Aero "show windows" feature is way less functional than Mac OS X's Expose.

I should have upgraded to a Linux distro.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

computers: saying NO to the Office tax with Google Docs

There have always been free alternatives to Microsoft's huge bloated expensive Office suite, particularly OpenOffice.org.

I don't use them because apart from programming in Eclipse I create my documents on the Web (like this one). If I need to send out a paper letter, I use Wordpad.exe.

So what do you do if someone sends you an Office document as an attachment? Wordpad will sort-of open a Microsoft Word .doc file, but an Excel .xls or PowerPoint .pps/.ppt is meaningless. Of course, no one should be sending attachments, since as Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, said in Upside magazine 10 years ago:
I'm trying to ban e-mail attachments. I just want an ASCII e-mail.
If you want to show me something, put it in a Web page, publish it,
give me the URL, and I'll look at it. That's the new model.
You can't stop others from sending you Office files, so most people give up and buy a copy of Office.

Enter another killer free service on the Web from Google, Google Docs. You can upload any of those file formats to it, or you can create a document/spreadsheet/presentation from scratch. More importantly, you can publish any file in Google Docs to the Web so other people can view it, comment on it, or even collaborate on it from their browser. The file format becomes irrelevant. No more sending a document back and forth in e-mail with lots of comments.

Next time you think you need to send an Office document to other people, put it on docs.google.com or create it from scratch there, and send them the link.

Just as YouTube is slowly but surely killing off the inefficient approach of e-mailing huge video files to share with friends, Google Docs should kill off e-mailing large jokey PowerPoint slide shows around. As a demo, here's a slightly naughty PowerPoint joke thing I received as an attachment, now on the Web at http://docs.google.com/Present?docid=dcvvrqtp_6c3vccz&fs=true.

I know it's hard to believe, so I'll repeat it:
You DON'T need Microsoft Office on your computer
Donate the $200 to charity.

Update There are other free Web-based applications besides Google Docs. Here's the same PowerPoint presentation in Zoho's "Show" app: http://show.zoho.com/public/skierpage/Oneofthosedays.pps

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

computers: love the one your with

The computer industry has created the meme "Computers get slow and gunky after 20 months or so". I know lots of people who buy a new laptop every year or two because, well, that's just the way it is.

Of course that's completely untrue. Run anti-virus, uninstall programs you're not using, run a spyware remover, disable startup programs and services that don't seem to be important (note how these tasks are progressively harder for the average user) and your computer should work for years. I ran a Macintosh 128 with the "kitchen-table memory upgrade" for a decade.

After 8 years, we're replacing a Pentium III 500 Mhz desktop machine.
  • It needed more disk space. 10GB just isn't compatible with today's mega-bloated programs.
  • Contacts search in Outlook 2000 started mysteriously crashing and nothing fixes it.
  • Although the key program SeaMonkey (the latest iteration of the Netscape all-in-one browser and e-mail) works perfectly, lots of utilities and new versions didn't run well on Windows 98 SE, e.g. Photoshop Elements.
  • Network sharing and printing between Windows 98 SE and XP is slow and unreliable.
  • Most importantly, Windows 98 SE isn't getting updates and patches. Most security vulnerabilities are in the browser but occasionally the bad guys find holes in the operating system.
I could have performed surgery to address all of these, starting with the hard drive, but when you're that many generations behind, the software/hardware/documentation to upgrade your old computer is itself out-of-date and unsupported.

So an IBMLenovo Thinkpad T61 with ultra mini-dock is on the way. The hard decision was whether to go with Windows XP or Vista Home Premium. Cnet's laptop buying guide recommended Vista Home Premium. We'll see...

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

computer: One Laptop Per Child going gangbusters

OLPC news looks good. B1 prototypes! Supposedly the learning community responded well to this keynote. Paper textbook publishers and people with ties to Microsoft/Intel are going to go even heavier into politics and FUD mode to bring this down.

By designing everything from the ASICs to the apps in an open concerted manner, they're optimizing and improving the entire system on an hourly basis, in a way that a Wintel laptop can only dream about. (In contrast, here's a long sad post from a Microsoft engineer about the hassles and crapware of a typical Windows PC.) Even though I'll probably never own one, much of the improvements in software will flow to LinuxBIOS, Linux, X windows, and other open source projects.

And I find another super-talented long-timer is working on it, Mitch Bradley of Sun, Forth, PROM fame.

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Monday, November 7, 2005

computers: 55,000 Mac mail messages moved

I organized many of my e-mail on a Microsoft Exchange IMAP server at work, access to which I lost at the same time The Man pried my Mac Powerbook from my cold, dead fingers.

I transferred my mail files to this Windows machine and installed the fine free Thunderbird mail program, but it has no Tools > Import > Mac Mail option.

For a month I tried just leaving the Mac mail files on-disk. They're text and I can view them fine. But Google Desktop search wouldn't find words in them. So I decided to move the mail into Thunderbird's folders.

Many of the Mac Mail folders contained mbox files that I could simply move into the Thunderbird directory in C:\Documents and Settings\S Page\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\blahblah.default\Mail\Local Folders and T'bird would spot them upon restart. I discovered the hard way that this only works for top-level files, not subdirectories.

I had a lot of duplicate e-mails, so I found a free mergebox.pl script. Installation of this on Cygwin and recent Perl was a bear. It uses the old Mail::Folder module, and when I reported bugs and fixes in this I found its maintainer "kjj" has vanished. I did get it to concatenate and remove duplicates from some mbox files.

None of this worked for the IMAP server messages. The Mac Mail in Mac OS X 10.3 Panther keeps a local copy of each message as Library/Mail/IMAP-spage@bigco.com/INBOX.imapmbox/CachedMessages/100154 . So each CachedMessages folder is sort of like a maildir folder, but mergebox.pl wouldn't process them. I could probably glue them together myself, but the hard part would be finding the messages it couldn't read and dealing with issues like attachments and multi-part messages.

Googling found "Sven" who had the same problem, and he recommended Emailchemy; it knows about Mac Mail and Thunderbird, and it converted 44,000 (!!) cached Mac Mail IMAP messages into Thunderbird format, even preserving the folder hierarchy. It hung on a few folders that were already corrupted, but the author seems willing to help even before I paid for it.

If you have a lot of messages and special needs, the $25 for Emailchemy is money well spent.

(I posted about this here and here on the Thunderbird support forum.)

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