The Spectre of Math

June 26, 2011


Filed under: Hacking,Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 5:01 pm

Hopefully I’ve solved my overheating problems with the lenovo. First using the nvidia blob seems to have lowered the gpu temperature, but it wasn’t enough. Turning off the “discrete graphics” and trying to run the thing with the Intel GPU led to scary kernel crashes. I’ve realized that cpufreq does not take into account cpu temperature (that’s kind of dumb isn’t it). The few posts I found had solutions of the form “cpus should never overheat” and “reapply thermal paste” … yeah that’s very useful. My acpi does not output temperature for some reason, though lm_sensors seem to be working, so it seems cpuspeed daemon won’t work I guess. So it’s either hacking cpuspeed or the simpler solution just lowering the maximum speed of the cpu. That seems to be working beautifully. I tried very hard to overheat it and it’s still good. I can’t really tell that it’s slower so I don’t really care.

Still I hoped this would have been solved long ago. I sort of assumed it was actually.

Before I managed to “fix it,” I have come up against the “run fsck manually” message, which I filed as a bug against fedora only to get “what did that look like and that shouldn’t happen nowdays” response. Well I am not about to replicate this as I actually need to … you know … do work. And I don’t want to end up spending the day reinstalling the computer in case the filesystem really does get hosed.

Anyway, not too happy with the Lenovo anymore. There are plenty of problems with this hardware. Given how much everyone was raving about lenovo, I expected a lot better. Next time (which given how this hardware seems to be working is going to be soon) i will buy another one of those linux preinstalled laptops. The hardware will suck, but at least I won’t have to buy windows.

I wish I could buy a laptop and have it for years. That doesn’t seem to be a possibility. First you buy a laptop and must install a bleeding edge distro to get all the hardware to work. Then by the time the version of the distro you use is reasonably mature and bug free (or you can use a different long term supported kind of distro) then your hardware breaks down, forcing you to buy a new laptop. The cycle of life!

I wish people built things that meant to last for more than 1-2 years.

June 22, 2011

Update fever

Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 8:23 pm

Yaikes, Firefox 5 is out and Firefox 4 is EOL. Each time I used Chrome (I had to use chrome to access the webct gradebook at UCSD) it had a different version number. I can’t quite tell the difference between browsing 3 years ago and browsing now, except that Chrome still doesn’t do flash on 64 bits, and in firefox it is by running the 32 bit version of flash in the wrapper.

Whatever people are somking, I want some!

At the same time my laptop (lenovo, not too satisfied anymore, not sure if I will buy one again) turns off about once a week, possibly overheating, but its hard to tell.

Hell I want just something that works! Why do people keep adding new features that break old features, so that no matter which version of software or hardware you use you always end up with something broken.

I don’t care for the fastest hardware, I mean it really isn’t any faster that I can tell anyway than it was a few years ago. But the old hardware dies and you have to buy new hardware that requires new drivers that are broken in new ways, before they get fixed, your hardware dies again.

Software seems the same way. What happened to quality engineering? It’s a known fact that writing a new feature is 5% of the work and making sure it doesn’t break everything is 95%. Now everyone wants to just skip the 95%.

The best example of good software is TeX and LaTeX. They have not changed in … decades. Yes a new version of a macro does come out every once in a while, and a distribution will break the installation once in a while for stupid reason, but the software itself is stable and mature. I can compile a document made 10 or 20 years ago without modification. I don’t have to learn anything new. It works, and it has quirks, but it has the same quirks for everybody, so they are usually well documented quirks.

April 6, 2011

Congrats to the GNOME community on the GNOME 3 release

Filed under: Hacking,Linux — jlebl @ 4:03 pm

As the title says.

Now this is the first major GNOME release I was not part of (insert sad nostalgic face here). There is also an alarming lack of easter eggs in this release. I think those two facts are highly correlated. So no randomly floating fish to make fun of those who take life way too seriously: Wanda, may you rest in peace!

April 3, 2011


Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 8:29 pm

So just in case my last post seemed too negative: I do like gnome shell, and I am using it. I am just a grumpy kind of person, I always was. So some of the gnome 3 experience takes some getting used to, some of it is annoying, but it is kind of cool. I think it could have been a lot nicer if there were not so many on purpose annoying aspects of gnome shell. Another example: the internal microphone needs some tinkering with alsa levels. This was possible with the old gnome alsamixer, and I probably would have figured out what was going on if i had that. The command line alsamixer is too difficult for me (I can’t tell the difference between muted and not, and I have no clue how to move left/right channels separately, which is what needed to be done to make the mic to work).

My gripes are with the assumption that gnome is working on perfect hardware and only well written apps run under it. That will never happen, no matter how much we wish it to happen. 10 years ago I thought that within a few years linux experience will be 100% out of the box on almost any laptop. It’s still not there, and will never be there. That last 5% will take forever, not a couple of years. Mostly because even the windows experience is not 100% good out of the box even though it is preinstalled. I tried turning on windows first before wiping it, and it already had some issues even though it was the stock experience, but I found even the ipad to be buggy (and it made me laugh that marketa’s vista laptop has been crashing on shutdown ever since it was new, it started doing that before we even installed anything on it). I just tend to see problems with design that other people ignore for all the cool-aid they are drinking (this is especially true with apple and/or google).

Anyway, overall, I’m fairly happy with GNOME 3. And I’m sure it will get better in a few years. I’m just hoping that more essential things also get solved.

April 2, 2011

GNOME 3 experiences

Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 7:09 am

So my Zareason notebook decided to break (actually it was breaking for a while, the case is really terrible material-wise). I’ve been looking to buy a linux preinstalled laptop, but finally saw a sale on a lenovo u460 and decided to just get it. The machine is very nice and essentially everything works. I installed newest Fedora alpha and updated to the latest bits so I have GNOME 3 here.

Experience is not entirely positive. GNOME 3 is a solution in search of a problem. The things that GNOME 3 makes easier weren’t really all that difficult before. It doesn’t really make anything important any easier. Basically it improved on one part of the desktop experience that was already “good enough.” There is nothing that a user couldn’t have done before that they can do with GNOME 3. But there are things that were possible with GNOME 2 that aren’t with GNOME 3. So this improvement is at a cost of making lots of more rarely done things much harder. If there are 100 things, each one of them only affecting 1% of the users, it is entirely possible that 100% of the users are affected. I am sure that everyone will find a couple of things they need to do (not just want to do, but NEED to do) that will be very hard if not almost impossible in GNOME 3. For example for me, linking two computers in a temporary way with an ethernet cable was not possible with a GUI anymore, and I couldn’t any more figure out how to change the mac address the network card uses in the new dialogs. Both were things I needed to do. It doesn’t help if someone tells me I shouldn’t have to do them if say the network setup (which is beyond my control) was done better.

A good UI gets out of the way. GNOME 3 more often gets in the way by making things that I needed to do harder or impossible to find or do. So while much of gnome shell is nice there are many places where it makes life harder on purpose for whatever reason. GNOME 2.0 had the same philosophical problem.

There are many places where the linux desktop is still very deficient in a way that keeps people from using it. GNOME 3 does nothing to improve that in my opinion. It’s all nice in a perfect world, but we do not live in a perfect world where all hardware looks the same, all 3d drivers work, all people work the same way and all necessary software for linux is already written.

Someone should try to fund a study to find out “why are you not using linux” or more specifically “what does linux not do that you need it to do before you will use it”. Surely it is not fixed workspaces and starting applications from a menu.

September 8, 2010

new genius

Filed under: Hacking,Linux,Mathematics,Teaching — jlebl @ 8:42 am

I figured I ought to make a genius release before it is a year since the last one, so 1.0.10 is out then. A bunch of minor updates have accumulated but nothing major. Biggest change was that I added possibility to rename variables in the plotting interface so that I can set variable names to those that I am talking about in class. That reminds me to check on the availability of computer projectors in the classrooms I’m teaching in at UCSD.

August 31, 2010

damn git again

Filed under: Hacking,Linux — jlebl @ 5:42 am

Bitten again … so I now finally noticed that it seems that a ChangeLog file is now out of favour in the GNOME git. People just commit stuff (translations it seems) without anything. Plus when i do git pull, it just spits out a lot of jargon nonsense but doesn’t tell me the important things: Which files have changes. So I don’t actually notice what was changed. I have to go hunt down that information.


Even the git browser at is useless. I wish I had CVS back.

August 7, 2010

I’m the 18th most prolific GNOME contributor?

Filed under: Hacking,Linux — jlebl @ 4:40 am

I’ve looked through the GNOME Census: Apparently in the 6 or 7 years that I’ve not worked on GNOME, I still have not managed to get out of the top 20, at least based on number of commits. By a rough estimate based on time being employed by Eazel, I guess about 1/3 or 1/4 or so of my commits were as Eazel employee. Meaning that probably I account for 1/4 or 1/5 of all Eazel commits to GNOME (that sounds kind of freaky).

What’s even more freaky is that I single handedly committed about 70% as much as Canonical (which had a longer time).

Someone (can’t remember who, I’m reading these blogs while moving half way cross country) said something about that Canonical should have hired some people to just “hack on cool GNOME stuff.” Well, that was essentially my job description at Eazel. So if I managed, over the 3-4 years of really being active on GNOME to have 0.7% of “activity” on GNOME over its lifetime. Than if Canonical would have recruited me (though I was probably unrecruitable by that time) or someone like me, they could over the past 6 years have more than doubled their “contribution.” They would probably have a lot more say in the future direction of GNOME as well. A couple of dedicated engineers are not expensive in the overall scheme of things for a company.

Now number of commits is not the best way to count contribution. I think it’s probably hard to measure Canonical’s contribution to GNOME and it’s likely bigger than indicated by the number of commits.

Still … 18th still? They aren’t trying very hard these days. Must be that they’re all mucking around with git instead of coding!

May 27, 2010

Chrome vs. Firefox

Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 4:02 pm

For the past month or so I’ve used Chrome to test it out. At first I thought it worked really well. Then I’ve started to discover many annoyances. Firstly, there is no way to “open” files like PDF directly from the internet. Chrome forces you to click a whole bunch of times so that you download the PDF to the tmp directory, then you open it by clicking on the name on the bottom of the screen. This is really, really, really annoying. Especially for a mathematician (or I assume any scientist) who reads many PDFs, DJVUs, PSs, every day. This is enough to make me not want to use it. Whatever stress reduction from slightly faster and smoother browsing experience is totally canceled out by this. I really don’t see how hard it is to save to /tmp and open automatically. I mean browsers have been doing this forever.

Another thing that was worrying me is that saved passwords are not encrypted behind a master password.

The last straw was the fact that it can’t print right.

So back to firefox. Yes it’s slightly slower, and every once in a while I get weird JavaScript errors when using gmail, but it’s way less annoying. It will be nice once firefox moves to separate processes for every webpage. I think that alone does quite a bit to speed up browsing, especially one a multicore machine.

So the result of the fight: Chrome-Firefox is 0:1.

March 20, 2010

consistency in UI

Filed under: Linux,Technology — jlebl @ 4:11 pm

So ubuntu tried (or is trying) changing the window bar completely in beta 1 of lucid. They moved the window controls to the left of the bar and reordered them. Presumably to free up space on the right for “something.” What that something is, is unclear. But that “something” cannot possibly be anything critical, since apps should work in different themes and different distros.

I guess they may end up doing something cool with the freed up right hand side. But, and this is a big but, is it going to be worth all the annoyance to people switching? Given that all three of the computers run a different flavour of linux, it is likely that this “new” ui will only be on my home machine. I still can’t get used to closing the window on the left, especially since at work, on my netbook, on marketa’s machine or on whatever random computer I get to use for a bit it’s on the right. I think at some point I’ll be annoyed enough to change the window button order back (once I figure out what gconf key does that).

People that have to also use windows will be annoyed to no end. Whatever minor improvement in usability we may get from whatever cool thing is on the right hand side of the window title bar in the future will be more than wiped out by the annoyance of having to switch between two layouts on two machines. So using the UI is slower simply because I have to think what machine I am on.

This is my favourite pet peeve with the direction GUI is trending to. Consistency is usually flushed down the toilet for whatever “cool” experiment a certain designer is trying. MP3 players have been suffering from this for years. Web pages have the same problem. Now many other applications are following suit.

GNOME Shell and friends for example come up with completely different looking and working widgets for standard things such as scrollbars, buttons and menus. The netbook launcher is almost unusable for it. If it was built from standard widgets it would have probably had working keyboard navigation, would have been arguably easier to use and even would have been easier to code up and would have fewer bugs. GNOME was suffering from this from the beginning. We had widget themes way before we had a half working desktop.

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