Archive for

August, 2011


Free software on Android

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Although much of the Android code is open source, the full eco-system is less free than some would have hoped for. Not only are many of the hardware drivers non-free and proprietary, many of the default applications are also non-free and also requires sign-in.

The list of free software Android applications is therefore a welcome contribution. In addition, there is an alternative free market application and repository (APK ownload), which gives access to the other free apps. It works as the built-in Google market, but requires no sign-in, and neatly lists the license used for each application. For the developers that offers different version, one can download and install not only the latest, but several different version of the same software. Finally, it allows the user to add additional repositories, just as one would do on a desktop GNU/Linux distro.

Amongst the free apps is the calendar replacement aCal, which uses the CalDAV protocol. Combined with the DAViCal server, it might be and interesting replacement for Google calendar. The support in Thunderbird looks a lot more promising.

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MeeGo (CE) and the FreeSmartphone.Org Distributions

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Timo Jyrinki has an interesting write-up about free software on mobile phones. Mentioning FreeSmartphone.Org (FSO), Openmoko, Debian’s FSO group, SHR, QtMoko, and MeeGo.

He highlights the promising combination of GNU/Linux + Qt in MeeGo, and also hopes for further development in FSO, SHR, and QtMoko. However, he concludes that getting the community to take over the MeeGo project after Nokia leaves might be difficult task.

Raspberry Pi: A €30 Computer

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A few days ago,  Raspberry Pi announced that they had gotten Quake 3 running on their ARM computer. Furthermore, their FAQ estimates the networked model will cost $35 and be released at the end of this year. There is also an interview in the Guardian.

Provisional specification

  • 700MHz ARM11
  • 128MB or 256MB of SDRAM
  • OpenGL ES 2.0
  • 1080p30 H.264 high-profile decode
  • Composite and HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0
  • SD/MMC/SDIO memory card slot
  • General-purpose I/O
  • Optional integrated 2-port USB hub and 10/100 Ethernet controller
  • Open software (Ubuntu, Iceweasel, KOffice, Python)
  • The device is powered by an external AC adapter, and the Model A consumes around 1W at full load.
  • The device should run well off 4xAA cells.

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Fedora 15: Upgrade

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The latest upgrade of Fedora, to version 15, was anything but smooth this time. The release included so many radical changes, so I’m guessing the focus has been to get the basics working, while skipping corners on minor issues. Apart from the switch to Xfce, and some smaller adjustments to Firefox, here’s the problems I ran into, and some workarounds:

  • I had several packages stuck from older version, some from F12. The CD upgrade did not stall on this, but subsequent yum upgrade did. Removing the packages resolve the issue:yum remove openbios-common joda-time-javadoc flash-plugin
  • gThumb had one of its dependencies broken due to a name change, removing and reinstalling fix that.
    yum remove gthumb libclutter-gtk
    yum install gthumb
  • xine-lib needed manual updating, for some reason
    yum update xine-lib

Finally, there were some hiccups with the video driver and Xinerama in Xfce. The problem was that the ATI Catalyst settings tool kept mis-configuring the xorg.conf file. It was juggling three screens and two video card sections, while I only have two screens attached to the same card. In the end, I had to manually edit the file.

While resolving that, I also bumped into the change to systemd. It no longer reads /etc/inittab, but instead has its configuration under /etc/systemd/system. The concept of runlevels is still transferable, though. And to set another runlevel by default, link in the corresponding target file:
ln -sf /lib/systemd/system/ /etc/systemd/system/
ln -sf /lib/systemd/system/ /etc/systemd/system/

For more on systemd, see the FAQ.

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Firefox: Old Style Status Bar

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In Firefox 4, the old style status bar at the bottom was removed. Instead, the URL of a link is randomly displayed left or right in a small pop-up bobble. Annoying.

Luckily, a fix is already made: The Status-4-Evar extension. Download, install and the URL is back in the status bar as before.

Switching from Gnome to Xfce

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I’m not the only one stalling on the new Gnome 3 / Shell UI, and looking for alternatives. Also, it seems I’m not the only one settling on Xfce as a replacement for Gnome 2. It’s a lightweight desktop, and strikingly similar to that of old Gnome and KDE. Basic panels, work spaces, window handling and customization is all in place.

To install after a plain Fedora install:

yum groupinstall XFCE

In Fedora 14, version 4.4 was available, while Fedora 15 includes the significant upgrade to Xfce 4.8. This caused a few problems, since I had already started switching in F14, and after upgrading, all my panels and launchers failed.

It was not to hard to transfer from the old Gnome 2 panels, though. Basic plug-in in the notification area was actually brought along fine, including parcellite, networking, and even Dropbox. For the “drawers” in Gnome, Xfce uses “launchers”. It’s the same idea. And what’s more, the 4.8 version also uses the .desktop short-cut files. To copy from a Gnome 2 “panel / drawer” to a Xfce launcher, provided one already exists (It might not work 100%, but you get the idea):

grep -r -l panel_3 $HOME/.gconf/apps/panel | xargs grep stringvalue | grep desktop | tr '<' '>' | cut -f 3 -d '>' | while read f; do d=`locate -n 1 $f`; cp $d $HOME/.config/xfce4/panel/launcher-11.; done

You might also want to style and theme the look a bit, including the buttons on the windows. I set the Window Manager Theme to “Stoneage”, and increased the title font to 11. Under Settings -> Appearance, I’ve gone for “ClearlooksClassic”, “Fedora” icons, and 14 as default font (since I sit far away from the screen).

Under Window Manager Tweaks I was first confused by the “wrap workspaces” options. However, they seem to have been cancelled out by Xinerama or something else.

The default taskbar clock does not have a calendar, so go for the “Orange Clock” instead. I replaced the visible line with “%H:%M”, and the tooltip with “%a %d %b %Y/%V”.

And that’s all there is to it, really. Xfce does not have many “native” application, but all GTK+ based ones run fine, include what I’ve tried from Gnome and KDE: gThumb, K3b, and Gnome Terminal.

Firefox: Disable tab animation

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After the latest upgrade to Fedora 15, Firefox 5, and Gnome 3 (more about that in later posts), there are several annoying features to remove and customize. One common theme creping in again and again is animated windows, tabs and the like. It adds nothing be distractions. Luckily, it can be configured:

In Firefox 4 and later, type in about:config in the URL bar. Search for browser.tabs.animate on the filter line, and switch that setting to off.

Thanks to the Firefox Support Site for this tip.

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Real Names

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The “Real Names” discussion is raging these days, and it’s great to see not only fringe opinionist chipping in, but big names on both sides. Danah Boyd from Microsoft chooses to focus on the power people ought to have to secure themselves. While Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, looks at pseudonyms and how they can be used to avoid persisting and attaching information to one’s real identity. The Slashdot crowd says, “if you don’t like it, don’t use their service”. Everybody has a story from Facebook when sensitive information leaked out to the wrong people.

All this starts to sound familiar, and indeed the various points raised now were all neatly collected about two years ago in Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s book “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. Schonberger’s argument was not focused on real name or pseudonyms, but rather examined what happens when the default shifts from forgetting to remembering almost everything. He investigates several options and solutions to the problem of eternal memory, and has at least one suggestion which might help: expiration dates for information.

Although engineers and managers alike would get much back from reading the book, I fear that Schonberger’s argument would be lost on many of them. It would drown in technical details and resistance, never making it into code. Expiring digital information is so counter-intuitive to how engineers work and think, it would be written off as impossible.

As for the “Real Names” debate, my take is “trust no one”. “Enemy of the State” is definitely worth a re-watch if you haven’t seen it lately.

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Patterns in Sand

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Various geologist have photographed patterns in sand, shown in this Wired article. Below, Martyn Gorman’s picture from the east coast of Scotland.

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