Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Gutsy on PS3

There are two places I use Ubuntu: at work, and on my Playstation. The work machine has been upgraded, so now it is time to upgrade the PS3 to Gutsy. This should be very interesting...I'll tackle this in the next few days and post updates.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Upgraded to Gutsy

The upgrade went off without a hitch! I'm now a proud user of Ubuntu 7.10.

In terms of features, it is more of the same of what you love about Ubuntu. The system runs as it should, and I'm happy with it. I really haven't noticed much new, other than the Display control panel that now has support for multiple monitors. It didn't do what I wanted really (screwed up the resolutions), so I went back to the files I had from when I manually edited my configuration files to work perfectly. Its a shame that this was supposed to be one of the biggest features, but doesn't seem to quite work. The whole system seems a little more snappy and responsive though which is nice, but it could just be my imagination.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Upgrading to Gutsy Today

I decided to beat the rush and get the newest Ubuntu a day early. It goes official release tomorrow, but there is a chance that the servers will be overloaded on release day. For those of you wanting to do the same today, just run "update-manager -d".

Monday, October 15, 2007

Back to Technology: The Networked Media Tank

I've recently lost a little focus, writing about things other than technology. Today, I'd like to go back, namely to a product that is coming out soon, the networked media tank (NMT). This is from a company called Sybas, but they only sell to other distributors right now, like popcornhour. I've been looking at one of these, as it is basically a standalone playback device that can play directly from a hard drive, and can connect to a screen/TV via HDMI, component, etc. Think "stripped down home theater PC" (or "Apple TV without the restrictions of the iTunes/Apple universe").

I've got a lot of media recorded from my DVR and backed up onto external HDD, and as I've said before, it would be great to have a simple solution to play this content back without having ANOTHER huge device in my entertainment center, be it full blown computer or my laptop. I thought the PS3 would do it, but Sony's MPEG playback is still bugging out on files that do fine on a PC...but I digress, I'm tired of that not working. As it is now, I have to set up my laptop whenever I wish to watch this content. I have to:
  1. Plug my laptop into the power outlet.
  2. Plug the external drive into the power outlet.
  3. Plug USB from the drive to the laptop.
  4. Plug the mini-DVI to HDMI cable into my laptop.
Its pretty intense and takes just a couple minutes longer than I want. The NMT might solve my problems now, as it can playback the files off of my drive directly. Of course there is still the dreaded filesystem support looks like the NMT supports the Linux EXT3 filesystem and no others, so this is another issue...sigh.

Friday, October 12, 2007

If you want to comment, at least keep a public profile

I'm kind of tired of reading comments from people and thinking that I'd like to know more about them, only to find that their profile isn't publicly shared. I'd say that this is 99% of the case with comments. Please people...if you are going to comment, at least make it so the reader can find out a little bit about who you are. The meaning of a comment on an article or post is diminished without context. For example, if I post on someone else's blog about a technical issue with, I don't know, software, well then at least you can look up my profile and blog an maybe glean that I am somewhat qualified to talk about such things. I feel that people kind of hide behind anonymity, which is the point of the internet I suppose, but it never hurts to bring in real world context into online discourse.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Watch out for Amway/Quixtar

I was recently approached in a parking lot by a fresh off the boat Indian guy looking for the campus bookstore. I pointed him in the right direction and began walking away. As I did, I heard the question "Are you from India?". I get this a lot, and I politely answered that no, I am not, but my parents are from Bangladesh, the country next door. He starts asking me where I'm from, what I do, etc., and he exchanges the same information with me. He tells me that he works in IT, but that he also has his own business on the side in which he has a concept similar to, in which he is partnered with people like Dell and IBM to help increase their market share. I think "cool, this guy might have connections, it never hurts to keep contacts." I'm thinking that because he is a kind of start up, he might need a coder to manage this new type of website. How wrong I was.

He asked for my phone number, and since I thought he'd be a good connection since he had a start-up internet business, we exchanged numbers. I get call Friday night saying how he really felt good about me, and that his company was kind of hiring. He wanted to meet to discuss the opportunity.

The meeting started with a condescending overview of how franchising works, and how McDonalds makes their money, and how I have to multiply my time by getting others to work for me if I want to become wealthy. Instead of offering me a job opportunity in any real start-up, he goes on about how I can open an online store through this system he uses, and how I can get bonuses for signing up other people into the system. It became apparent that this guy was just trying to get me to sign up so that he gets more of a cut.

Basically this guy has an "online store" where all of his product is provided by this company called Quixtar, which is just the online arm of the notorious Amway. I suspect the online store website itself isn't anything at all but just the Quixtar page itself, and I'd have to put in some sort of ID number indicating that I'm buying from him. The fact that he had given me a business card with no URL for this supposed e-business website should have tipped me off.

He showed me some DVD on his laptop of a conference he attended, a Quixtar conference where 20k people with 40 millionaires among them attended. Of course this is a part of the scam, you have to drink the cool-aid and attend conferences and meetings to be successful...and guess what, you have to pay big money to attend, money that goes directly into the hands of higher up members who host the conference to teach you how to be successful. There is some bigwig up at the top of this scheme who started a company that sells informational materials and conference tickets on how to be successful in this program.

The point is that there is really not money in moving the retail products themselves, only money in selling promotional materials and signing up other poor saps. I think I've learned my lesson. This guy was dishonest with me, misrepresenting himself as a businessman looking to hire, when really he is just a peon in this pyramid setup. Note I don't say pyramid scheme, because that is a very specific thing regulated by the FTC, but Quixtar straddles the boundary between multi-level marketing and pyramid scheme. So if you ever encounter someone claiming to be a business person wanting to discuss an opportunity, makes sure you ask them upfront if they are with Quixtar...and if they are, wish them good luck and walk away.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Gutsy Counter

Its just a few days now until Gutsy goes official. If you've been on the fence about Linux, give this one a try when it officially comes out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Editing hosts file for convenience and ad blocking

DNS Servers
When you type in into your browser, we all know that there is a DNS server somewhere that gets queried to resolve that name into an IP address that can actually be used to start connections. But did you know that you can override these lookups locally? The TCP/IP stack looks in a file called "hosts" that resides somewhere on your system to FIRST resolve names to IP addresses before querying the DNS. This file is just a plain text document with a list of IP addresses and hostnames. On most *nix machines (MAYBE not on all BSDs though), the file lives in /etc. On Windows, it's usually in windows\system32\drivers\etc. Play around with it.

Make Digg Load Faster
I've had a bug with the digg ad servers that causes each digg page to take upwards of a minute to load, with my status bar saying "Transferring data from", so I added the following line:

This redirects all requests to to the IP address which always corresponds to your own machine, the localhost. Since your machine isn't hosting any evil ad server, your browser can't establish a connection and gives up immediately trying to contact, making digg load faster. There are other fun things you can do, like add aliases to your hosts file for commonly accessed hostnames: rajserv

This could let you do things like ssh rajserv on a local network instead of having to type in the whole IP address.

General Adblocking
The more general thing to do with this technique is to find hosts files on the net that have a list of all the bad adservers on the web. One such file can be found here, or you can just google for "hosts file". Some care must be taken editing these, just make sure to keep back up copies of the file when you are editing. On *nix, you will have to be root, so make sure to do the proper su or sudo before editing.
Having one of these adblocking hosts files pretty much blocks every ad/banner/cookie you can imagine, making the web experience a lot faster for many sites. Enjoy!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Learning Typesetting in TeX and LaTeX

If you are in academia, or ever have been, chances are you've seen the output of a system called LaTeX (pronounced la-tek or lay-tek). This typesetting system lets you create professional document with figures, mathematical equations, etc. Many professor's notes are written in this format and then distributed via PDF or HTML. Many professors then take sets of notes like this and publish textbooks. Pretty much every peer reviewed journal out there requires submissions to be formatted in LaTeX. In short, if you want to be in academia, its important to know how to work with it.

I just wanted to share this good tutorial I found:

This is a good reference if you are wondering "how do I insert a _________?", this document will most likely tell you how to get the symbol you desire. Another good place to get this type of information is from Wikipedia:
It turns out that the equations and math typesetting in Wikipedia use a subset of TeX, of which LaTeX is a variation/implementation. So most of these are valid and useful, although you may find that some of the tags/commands on this page don't work as expected.

I hope this was useful to SOMEONE...