Quick Roundup 518

Monday, March 29, 2010

If this morning's roundup seems more focused on computing than normal, here's why: I spent a fair chunk of the weekend switching to Ubuntu Linux on my desktop after a particularly annoying SUSE Linux "upgrade" broke several things that had been fine before.

How SUSE Lost a User

One of these things both made the upgrade necessary and was the straw that broke the camel's back: I'd suddenly stopped getting software updates, including security patches. Assuming my installation had reached end-of-life, I upgraded, only to be asked for all kinds of marketing (read: personal) information by Novell when I tried doing post-installation patches. Novell now has their marketing information, but since I never got any patches, it won't do them any good.

Yeah, sure, there's probably a fix or a work-around, but updates were working with zero hassle before, as well as with the two Ubuntu-based installations I already had. Plus, I had better things to do than fix this, and then figure out (1) why VMWare (which is mission-critical for two major projects) suddenly couldn't find the kernel headers it needs to compile and run, or (2) what to do about the latest dumb change to the default mounting behavior or nomenclature (or was it both, this time?) for USB devices, or (3) how to find a happy medium in focus-stealing under KDE 4 between everything stealing focus and nothing, with things you want to pop up popping under, or ... you get the idea. I could waste a day fixing all this niggling stuff that had been working fine before -- or I could jump ship and get control of my computing life back.

I must say that I'm about as happy with this change as I was when I first dropped Windows for SUSE Linux (6.1) over a decade ago. Yes, I still had to tweak a few things here and there, but everything I need now just works again, plus I can do a few things that I never quite had time to figure out how to get working in SUSE. I'm (obviously) no computer expert, but I find that Ubuntu strikes a better balance for me between customizability and ease-of-use than SUSE Linux presently does.

Rejuvenate an Old iPod (or other mp3 player)

In the process of trying out an alternative to iTunes, I goofed up the firmware in my 30 GB fifth-generation iPod. I never liked its firmware interface anyway, so I looked around for alternatives and hit the jackpot: Rockbox. This software is both easy to use and feature-rich, which is a rare combination.

Lifehacker has a write-up, and the first commenter there nicely sums up what I thought after using it yesterday:

I installed RockBox last night on my iPod... and it immediately resolved all the times I'd say "why can't my stupid iPod do -this-" whatever -this- had been in the past. If you're happy with your ipod as a super easy to use and intuitive device with a crapload of restrictions built in by apple... I wouldn't bother. But if you want to expand on what you can do with it and prefer a directory driven experience, go for it.
All an iPod is is a really dumb computer specialized to store, organize, and play audio/video files. In principle, there is no reason you can't just use standard commands to copy a directory of music files to one and play it. As far as I could tell, though, you could copy the files over, but unless you used iTunes or something like it, the firmware couldn't even see the music. Rockbox can. It also supports more file formats than the firmware in an iPod.

And what about my alternative to iTunes? I'll revisit that later. In the meantime, cp -ruv will "sync" my iPod nicely enough.

An Epistemological Freak Show

I'd call the blog, Tales of Corporate Oppression, both amusing and instructive.

First, we have the following reductio ad absurdum of rigid adherence to rules regardless of context:
Customer: "Do you provide such and such service?"
Employee: "Can I get your name please?"
Customer: "Sure, it's John."
Employee: "John. John, John, John, John, no we don't, thanks for calling."
And then we have what I would call, "fun with mirroring when surrounded by drones:"
[M]y next door cube neighbor came up with an idea. She and her husband both worked at the company in different departments. She said they wanted to introduce the word "beneful" as a new buzzword and see if it would stick.

In case you don't know, Beneful is the name of a dog food.
It worked.

Even the Tip of This Iceberg is Alarming

Glenn Reynolds quotes a Wall Street Journal story about compensation for government workers that shows how bad the welfare state has gotten:
What if government workers earned the average of what private workers earn? States and localities would save $339 billion a year from their more than $2.1 trillion budgets. These savings are larger than the combined estimated deficits for 2010 and 2011 of every state in America. In a separate survey, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis compares the compensation of public versus private workers in each of the 50 states. Perhaps not coincidentally, the pay gap is widest in states that have the biggest budget deficits, such as New Jersey, Nevada and Hawaii. Of the 40 states that have a budget deficit so far this year, 28 would have a balanced budget were it not for the windfall to government workers. [bold added]
As amazing as this is, it's nothing compared to how the states -- and their over-taxed, under-employed citizens -- would do if they were to even begin reducing government to its proper scope. There could be massive tax cuts even now.

This problem, like "pork" is a mere symptom of a far bigger one. The same one, in fact.

Oh, boy!

The 85% I got on this quiz says I'm a "high nerd" -- and this Venn diagram (HT, Instapundit) tells me in my own language that it's not a compliment!

Maybe, maybe not. But after this weekend, I would agree that I need to spend less time around my computer...

-- CAV


djasonfleming said...

As to iTunes replacements, I find Rhythmbox to be adequate, though it has some annoying deficiencies, like not being able to easily group compilations all together.

I've also tried Banshee, which looks a little more feature-rich, but on my install has been very unstable.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for your suggestion. I agree that it seems like it would be adequate. In fact, I was actually playing with Rhythmbox when I knocked my iPod out of commission. (Yes. It was my fault, not the software's.)

I'm going to just use Rockbox/look at its manual off and on until I become accustomed to it and more familiar with its feature set and then, if I even really need something like Rhythmbox, I'll try it again.