Evil Genius Chronicles Podcast for July 24, 2015 – Brittle Expressions

I play a song by Glass Eye; I talk about how I have segmented out mailing list emails from my inbox; I discuss some podcasts I have subscribed to recently; I check in with my weight progress; I discuss buying the Fitbit Charge HR; I talk about an expression that drives me up a wall; I discuss the brittleness of Linux and how things that work just stop.

Here is the direct MP3 download for the Evil Genius Chronicles podcast, July 24 2015.

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Jaunty Jackalope Ruined My Life

OK, maybe that title is dramatic. It did ruin the last two work weeks for me, though. Over Memorial Day weekend, I upgraded my work laptop from Kubuntu Hardy Heron to Jaunty Jackalope. That was a maneuver I instantly regretted when I got to work on Tuesday and my second monitor would not work no matter what I tried. As it turned out, this Kubuntu release had some known really bad problems for those poor souls (like me) that have the Intel video cards. My 3 year old Dell Inspiron 9400 has the Intel 945 GM. From Dapper Drake through Hardy Heron, this laptop has been a champ and even being 3 years old I like it just as much as the day I got it and have no particular desire to get a new one. With Jaunty though it sucked so bad it made me wish I had Windows on there.

As the weeks went by, the depth of problems grew worse. The response of everything was sluggish, from changing virtual desktops to changing windows. When Kopete popped up notifications of incoming IMs, they would never go away. Basically, everything about my job got harder and the productivity hit is measurable in my bug fixing velocity. Last Friday was the worst yet and I got so frustrated that given half a chance I’d have thrown this laptop out the window. I made the executive decision that no matter what, I was taking it home for the weekend and I was not bringing Jaunty back to work.

I downgraded to Kubuntu Intrepid, it didn’t appear to be that much better than Jaunty on my video card and I immediately rolled back to Hardy, the version that was on there 2 weeks ago. However, I couldn’t find my install CD so I just downloaded it again and burned a new CD. Because of a misclick, I realized 30 seconds after starting the installer that I had downloaded mainline Hardy, not the Kubuntu version. At this point I said “Screw it, let it ride.” I got up this morning, ran the package update to get the few hundred packages with updates since the ISO version and went to work. I moved my backed up home directory back to /home and logged out and in, and voila! All of my gnome preferences from a year ago when I left Gnome came right back. At this point I’m back in business and delighted to be able to span my external monitor.

Now, here’s the lesson I learned from the whole painful ordeal and how I’m going to go forward with it. This is a mission critical box for me, in that when it has problems the way I make my living has problems. I don’t want downtime on it and I don’t want to spend my weekdays putzing with it. I need rollbacks to be very quick operations. I supposed I could ghost and image and do things like that, but I thought of another way that I’m going to use.

This has an 80 G hard drive, which is plenty for what I use it for. Since most of my work involves logging into remote servers this laptop is really a fancy thin client. The next time I upgrade, I’m going to wipe the drive and repartion with this kind of scheme:

Partition Size in GB Mountpoint
#1 18 /home
#2 2 /boot
#3 20 /
#4 20 /last_os_version
#5 20 /second_to_last_os_version

Now, suppose I had Hardy on Partition #3 and Gutsy on #4 and Feisty on #5 before my recent upgrade. I would have installed Jaunty on Partition #5 and changed all the mount points accordingly. Then, when the upgrade went poorly I would have downgraded by changing all the mount points back to what I have listed above, changed the default kernel to the matching one and gone back on my merry way. I never have to worry about /home or /boot because they are on their own partitions. If my thought experiments hold true, then rolling back in the worst case is an easy couple minute process, not the multi-day ordeal I went through just now. Cool, no?

Rhythmbox v. Amarok

I’m approaching 6 months of use of Ubuntu on the Dell Inspiron 9400 at work. I remain completely digging on it, and I have shocked more than one person by suggesting that I find this a pretty comparable substitute for my iBook. If that burst in flames tomorrow, I wouldn’t find moving to an Inspiron with Ubuntu a disappointment.

One of the things I like about this laptop is that it has multimedia keys. There are play, pause and launch buttons. When I’m playing MP3s on the laptop, I can pause from either the external keyboard or the laptop itself. One bummer of the default 6.06 setup is that the “music player” application is hardcoded in this version to be rhythmbox, which is a pretty rudimentary application that I’m not so wild about. I much prefer amarok and wanted to make it the default when I hit the music note button. I tried and failed to change the default and finally ran across this bug report on the issue (by way of this forum.) Long story short, you have to make a symlink early in the path so that the system is tricked into opening amarok when it thinks it is trying to open rhythmbox. With this little hack, my badass laptop became measurably 17.2% more awesome.


Rather than continuing to blog apologies for things I have failed to do, I’m going to go ahead and write in the positive about something I am doing and enjoying. At work when I walked in the first day, I was handed a Dell Inspiron 9400 – a really nice laptop. I was also given a Dell external LCD display. It came preinstalled with Windows XP, and my first morning of work I used Windows just enough to download some Linux ISOs and burn them. By the afternoon of the first day, I had wiped Windows off and tried to install Fedora Core 5. I had some problems trying to get the external monitor working and a few other issues, so I ended up trying Ubuntu 6.06 (Dapper Drake) to see if I could get things working. Eventually, after days of trying, I was able to get the display stuff working with both the sweet built-in LCD at 1920 X 1200 and the external at 1600 X 1200 in the big shared desktop, so between the two I have a 3520 X 1200 screen spanning the two. It’s quite cool and good for lots of surface area to have multiple text editors, web broswers and tailing log files open all at the same time.

After all was said and done, I probably could have gotten things up and running with about the same effort under Fedora Core but I ended up liking a lot of the Ubuntu specific little tools. It’s just nice, and the more I use it the more I like it. It is the closest I’ve ever had to a “It Just Works” experience with any Linux box, even though I had display setup issues. If I hadn’t been trying to do something weird with a fairly unusual video card to the Linux world (Intel 950 GM) I would have had the thing set up in an hour. After using it for a while at work, I decided I like this enough to redo my aging Thinkpad T20 at home to the same version of Ubuntu.

Having spent two months using this on a daily basis, I dig the look and feel. I dig the tools and the ease of management on a daily basis. I’ve been building my own kernels, just for fun, and I’m currently on a SMP kernel so that I can use both CPUs in this machine. Previously I’d been a little leary of building my own kernels, but with this checklist and step by step procedure it is actually pretty simple. All in all, I recommend this distribution as a good one for people that aren’t into Linux for its own sake but want a tool to get things done. I’ve used it every day for the last two months at my day job, and am getting serious work done with it. It has reached that point, so if you want to make the switch the biggest of the hurdles are behind us.

This post complies with my work blogging rules of the road.