Adapt > Engage > Dominate

Mp3tag Track Numbering

Before uploading my music to Google Music, I’ve been organizing and properly tagging my unruly collection.  Mp3tag has been invaluable, both for grabbing the album art and for quickly and easily tagging all my saved tracks.  One thing which really helped was the tip given here which can be used to number tracks like so: 1, 2, 3, etc. instead of 1/12, 2/12, 3/12, etc., which isn’t what I want, since I can already see how many tracks are in the album anyway.

After using Ubuntu in a dual-boot setup with Windows Vista/7 for several years, I decided it was time for a change.  The constant (figuratively speaking) installs every six months were a pain in the neck and upgrading, as opposed to fresh installs, never seemed to work 100%.  I could have stayed with an LTS, but I appreciate having new software available without having to manually hunt it down on my own.  The other issue which drove me away from Ubuntu was Unity.  I don’t necessarily hate it and I certainly liked some aspects of it (the upcoming HUD, in particular, looks really cool), but overall it just got on my nerves — and I’ve used it since it first came out.  The whole bar on the side thing became very annoying, especially because you can’t (easily) change much of anything about it.  There were also many frustrating little things which all added up over time.  For example, if you have exactly one instance of an application open and you click the icon, you expect it to minimize the window if you’re a Windows user (not so with Mac OS X I hear).  However, if you try this with Unity, nothing happens…absolutely nothing.  Apparently, this isn’t consistent behavior.  Fair enough, but I–and many other users–would appreciate it if there was a choice to toggle this behavior.  We know it’s possible, because some guy already created a patch to allow for this behavior.

That being said, I still like certain things about Ubuntu.  It’s very user friendly, as Linux distros go, and it has a wealth of applications, tools, etc. available.  When you go to download Linux versions of software from different sites around the ‘Net, you’re probably going to find an Ubuntu .deb version.  In addition to these plus points, Ubuntu has a very large community.  This generally translates into easier problem solving when you encounter a bug or missing piece of software or what have you.

The first distro I tried was Linux Mint Lisa (GNOME).  It was pretty nice and almost everything worked out of the box, but I encountered terrible lag when using Gnome Shell.  I actually liked Gnome Shell with Mint’s extensions better than I did Unity, but I didn’t want to waste yet another few hours, days, weeks, etc. fixing the stuttering.  Next up was Linux Mint KDE.  The experience was pretty similar to the GNOME version, except KDE actually ran smoothly, with the exception of nasty blips of 2-3 seconds of lag here and there.  I didn’t used to like KDE v4, having tried it earlier, but it seemed very slick, polished, and user friendly this time around.  I should point out that with both of these distros (and Unity, on occasion) I had terrible trouble getting the right monitor in my dual monitor setup to be designated and remembered as the primary monitor.  Applications kept launching on the wrong side or the DE would forget the settings after a reboot and start mirroring the monitors again.  I did eventually get both GNOME and KDE working correctly, but only after I got the right version of the graphics drivers and did some additional tinkering.  However, I felt both Mint versions were a bit…bloated.  Not excessively and certainly not as bad as a five year old Windows system, but it just didn’t feel 100% snappy.  On to the next.

I then considered other smaller distros like Crunchbang, Chakra, PCLinuxOS, Fedora, Linux Mint Debian (which I installed, but then uninstalled after again having problems with lag, update issues, and multi monitor woes), Xubuntu, Bodhi, and Lubuntu (also installed this one, but I didn’t really like using it on a day to day basis, even though I installed it on an old PC for a family member’s use).  Eventually I got around to Arch, Gentoo, ArchBang, and Sabayon.  I quickly dumped ArchBang and then decided to start at the bottom (source-based distro) and work my way up.  Gentoo appeared…well, imposing and cool, at the same time, but extremely time consuming.  The learning aspect of using Gentoo was definitely a plus point, but the simple fact was that I did not want to blow time on compiling the majority of my software just because I could.  The 5% or whatever increase in speed that I might have gotten was simply not worth it to me.  Also, I had no intention of sitting there and stripping out components from software like VLC; when I want to install VLC, I want everything.

Sabayon, for this reason, was very interesting.  It had both binary and source code versions of programs available and was compatible with Gentoo.  However, it just didn’t click with me and I got the impression that the distro was still being polished and wasn’t quite “there” yet.  I would still like to explore Sabayon in the future, however, even if it’s in a VM.

That, of course, leaves Arch.  Oh, I should point out that I eventually decided on a rolling release distro to avoid the reinstalls and to have access to the latest software, hence the shortlist of Arch, Gentoo, ArchBang, and Sabayon.  I had heard that Arch could be pretty tricky to install and configure and was basically like Gentoo, but with binaries.  I put these rumors aside though, when investigating Arch, in order to form an opinion from a neutral starting point.

The Arch wiki was one of the most important reasons for why I chose this distro.  Apart from some pages in Ubuntu’s wiki and other sites here and there, I had never seen such good documentation.  After reading the installation guide, I started wondering why people thought it was hard to install Arch.  The entire process is practically handed to you on a plate.  The attention given to frequently used software and system components is excellent.  There’s stuff on system time, ALSA, window managers, browser plugins, codecs, fonts, system administration, system services, compiling software, installing software from the AUR, etc.  Basically, if I could think of it, I could find it in the Arch wiki.  One of the best things is the troubleshooting tips.  On almost every page, there’s a section with stuff that can go wrong and how to fix it.  I recognized several problems I had had in the past that could have been solved by reading the wiki.  Even better, since Arch uses vanilla versions of software, those tips apply everywhere that piece of software is used, unless it has been customized by your distro.

I had never installed a Linux system from scratch and built it up from the core set of system components, but it certainly sounded like it would give me what I wanted–a fast, constantly update-to-date system–and it sounded as though I could do it easily.

I ended up installing Arch three times, which sounds like a lot, but in actuality it wasn’t really a pain (and I learned a lot).  The first time, I got stuck at the partition tool the Arch installer uses.  I just wasn’t getting the hang of it.  To make sure that I didn’t botch something, I just exited the installer and used GParted Live to do it in a couple minutes.  The second time, I got a GNOME 3 setup up and running.  Everything worked flawlessly, but after a reboot I had a lot of trouble getting my ‘Net connection back (this was on Ethernet).  I had to visit a page, wait for it to say it couldn’t resolve the DNS whatever, and then refresh the page to get anything (this process had to be repeated for every new page).  Pacman wasn’t working either.  I decided to give KDE another shot (I had been aiming mainly for GNOME distros and setups until then).

One wipe and another install later and I was back in business, this time with no networking problems, no graphics-related problems, and a ridiculously fast KDE 4.8 system.  I should point out that by this install, I could breeze through everything in under five minutes.  By the way, the core install of Arch is so fast that if you get up to blow your nose, it’s already done.  No joke, no exaggeration.  You still have to install the DE and software, but if you install the meta packages, the system just goes on autopilot and you can kick back and relax for a few minutes while it does its thing.  I had almost always used Synaptic or the recently introduced Software Center in Ubuntu for managing software, but Pacman…talk about speed.  Let me just say that Pacman is extremely fast.

Multi-monitor setup?  No problems.  Network connectivity? Done.  Development packages?  Got it.  The latest everything?  Yup.  Dropbox?  Not in the main repos…oh wait, it’s in the AUR, no problem.  The AUR has everything under the sun, basically.  One of the things I had worried about was the availability of packages in another distro compared to Debian’s repos or Debian-derived distros like Ubuntu or LMDE.  I needn’t have worried.  The only issue I encountered was a problem with sound playback.  ALSA was acting up and either not playing sound at all, playing KDE login/logout sounds, but nothing else, or playing sound in only one application at a time.  I fiddled around in the config files for a while, following the wiki, tried phonon-gstreamer instead of phonon-vlc (which helped a bit), and finally installed alsa-oss, which fixed the one-application-at-a-time sound.  However, upon rebooting, I still get notifications from KDE, seemingly randomly, that a sound device has stopped working.  This problem is also mentioned in the wiki and I think I’ll be able to get it sorted eventually and learn something in the process.

There were three other problems, but there were solved almost instantly by posts in the Arch News feed and the forums, which are filled with very knowledgeable people.

Other than the sound issue, I’ve had no problems with my Arch install.  It’s wicked fast, faster than anything I’ve ever used, and I finally get all my updated software as soon as it’s out, instead of playing Manual Install: The Game, like I had to do with GCC for C++11 support a while ago in Ubuntu.  In addition, I actually have some idea of what the heck is going on in more parts of the system.  This is in contrast to other distros, where it really seemed like a black box for most of the time that I was using them (not completely, you understand, but enough that it can be frustratingly opaque).  Unless I really screw something up, have a sudden, insane desire to install Gentoo/Sabayon, or find a distro that merges with my brain, I don’t think I’ll be leaving Arch for a while.  That being said, I’ll most likely still use Ubuntu and/or Lubuntu for my family’s machines when needed, since they need their OSs to “just work,” and I don’t want to spend extra time maintaining their systems for them.  I wouldn’t suggest Arch Linux to someone completely new to Linux–Ubuntu or Mint would take that honor–but for someone who’s used one of those two or another popular, user-friendly distro and who has some programming/OS knowledge, I would say go for Arch.  Someone completely new to Linux could use Arch Linux, but they would have to read all the instructions very carefully and really take their time to learn something about OSs and related topics.  Most people won’t do that, but it is possible.

tl;dr: Arch Linux is awesome, try it!  :)

Galaxy Nexus LTE Review

Most items of interest have already been covered in professional and personal reviews by now, so my review will consist mainly of miscellaneous thoughts about the device.

The Galaxy Nexus LTE is my very first smartphone, so, needless to say, I was really excited to put my feature phone in a drawer and upgrade (although I did like my feature phone and really appreciated its thinness).

Coming from a feature phone with a battery that lasted days, even a week sometimes depending on usage, the GN’s battery drain was both expected and surprisingly fast.  With WiFi + 4G LTE, Bluetooth, GPS, Sync, and full screen brightness, the battery drains really fast.  And it drains even faster when you actually do something on the phone.  Granted, it does a heck of a lot more than a feature phone, but still…it can be an annoying thing to keep track of.  With that said, you’re not going to need all those things on all the time, so realistically you can easily make it through a day (unless you’re watching Netflix/Youtube, browsing, snapping pictures, checking email, playing games, etc. nonstop).  There are various ways to manage battery life – switching to 3G if you only need simple stuff for a while like email, quick Google searches, light browsing, etc., keeping the brightness on auto or low, turning off GPS/Bluetooth when not needed, etc.  One thing which is annoying is that there is no built-in widget to switch between 3G and 4G; a widget does exist, but it doesn’t work on stock ICS (last time I looked).  In addition, putting an extra charger in your car/office should keep you topped up in most situations; if you’re on the road, carrying a portable battery pack can do the trick, too.

Moving on from battery life, I found the screen quite impressive.  I have good eyes and I couldn’t discern any pixels in almost any situation.  Sometimes I spot a tiny bit of pixellation when watching Youtube videos (due to low video resolution), but that’s about it.  I suppose if you whip out an electron microscope you’ll see them, but in day to day situations, you won’t.  The blacks on the display are truly black — as in black hole black.  The blacks on the OLED display give the phone an elegant appearance when using it.  The one thing which is kind of frustrating is that whites aren’t really white.  When putting the GN next to a family member’s ASUS Transformer tablet, the difference is shocking.  The whites on the tablet look blindingly white, whereas a color cast is immediately obvious on the GN.  On my particular unit, there seems to be a shift toward warmer temps (so whites seem reddish).  However, as bad as it sounds, I don’t really notice this color cast when using the phone during the day, unless I literally put it next to something like with whites closer to white.

Next up, the camera.  I was quite disappointed that the GN didn’t come with an 8MP shooter.  I know all about the “5MP can be OK if the sensor is awesome”, etc. etc., but let’s face it–it’s still 5MP.  With that said, I’ve taken both good and bad pictures with the phone.  I have (and have access to many) traditional SLRs, so when I see a picture from this phone, I *know* it’s from a phone.  On the other hand, it certainly is nice to have the ability to snap pictures wherever I am, without bring along a point-and-shoot or SLR.  The panorama mode is really cool, although I could spot banding in some of my panorama shots.  I admittedly haven’t tried out the time lapse feature (shameful, I know), but I expect it’ll work as expected and be really fun to play with.  In regards to low light photos, I’ve gotten both extremely grainy, terrible looking photos and surprisingly good-looking photos.  Many reviewers said their photos were fuzzy, but I didn’t notice that in my photos.  The key seems to be carefully focusing & setting up shots and using the usual breathing techniques to steady your hands when pressing the shutter release–in other words, doing the same kinds of things you would do on a regular camera.  Of course, I suppose that many people just mash the shutter release repeatedly while grunting or something and expect to see perfectly sharp pictures.  One thing I was fairly impressed with was the microphone; I’ve taken several videos and the audio has been fairly consistently clear (unlike on my family’s older camcorder).  So, to sum up, the camera is adequate, but it could be better.

Android ICS: definitely polished and very slick in general.  Customization potential is greatly appreciated.  I have noticed lag in a number of situations, like switching apps, typing in some cases, etc.  Also, the launcher has crashed a handful of times (rare) and the soft keys have crashed once.  Annoying, but I assume, like everything that it’ll improve over time and that it was a lot better than it was before in Gingerbread, Eclair, Froyo, etc.  Overall, though, the phone is very snappy and responds quickly the vast majority of the time.  Face unlock is very cool and is my preferred method of unlocking.  It doesn’t catch every position of my face, but this is easily remedied (“improve face unlock” under security) and nowadays it rarely fails to recognize my face.

The stock-ness of Android is very nice.  I don’t have to deal with stupid skins, bloatware, custom this, custom that, etc.  Rooting was easy (oh and WiFi Tether works great), as was unlocking the bootloader (both completed the first day).  The knowledge that I won’t have to wait for a year or more to get OS updates and have access to new software unique to the latest version of Android (like Chrome for Android) is really comforting.  It’s also nice to know that if I try my hand at app development I’ll have a clean platform to develop on.

Weight is pretty good–not too heavy, not too light.  Build quality, in my opinion, was fine.  Plastic != junk.  Plastic also doesn’t mean quality.  You’ve got to evaluate materials on a case by case basis.  Admittedly, it’s a bit nerve wracking to take the back off and put it back on, but I’m also not ripping it off and putting it back on multiple times per day (only did it once so far).  Charging time is quite fast; I’ve seen other phones that took forever to fully charge, but the GN juices up very quickly.  The Verizon logo on the back is…annoying.  It really should be Google.  On the other hand, though, it’s a logo, and doesn’t affect the phone’s performance or anything.  The oleophobic coating on the phone works surprisingly well; you’ll still want to wipe it down once in a while, but compared to, say, the previously mentioned Transformer tablet, fingerprints are not really an issue.  Volume has been noted as being low, but it’s plenty loud for me.  Maybe everyone else is just deaf from loud music?  3G speeds were pathetic (but usable); 4G speeds were excellent, on the other hand.  Interestingly, Verizon’s network quality seems to have done a complete about-face.  About 8-10 years ago, my family’s and my calls were constantly–and I mean constantly–dropped.  You literally could not finish a single conversation without dropping.  I haven’t had any dropped calls on the GN and voices sounded much clearer than what I was used to.

I played with a number of other Android phones that I had researched and I wasn’t impressed.  I even played with Android’s and my archenemy, the iPhone.  It was usable enough; the screen was nice in terms of color, but the size…compared to more spacious phones (like the GN), it felt like I was working on a matchbox.  The inability to add widgets and perform other small customizations immediately stood out to me as a con.  Also, although it’s hailed as being impossibly smooth, I managed to spotted a couple instances of lag (though it wasn’t as bad as the other skinned Android devices).  HTC devices felt like thick bricks and Motorola phones seemed to have some odd design decisions (sharp corners, unnecessary grooves, etc.).

To sum up, I’d have to agree with most reviewers that the GN is a great phone, indeed the best Android phone available now.  It has its faults, yes, but so does every device.  This is one of those times when you have to go with the gadget with the least amount of problems that matches your needs.  For me, that gadget is the Galaxy Nexus LTE.

After upgrading to Ubuntu 11.10 (64-bit), my Canon Pixma MX870 unfortunately stopped working.  Reinstalling the drivers didn’t fix it, nor did a bunch of other things.

However, a fellow by the name of Michael Gruz released drivers for not just the Pixma MX870, but also a truckload of other Canon printers as well (Pixma iP, MG, MP, MX, and Pixus series).  Instructions for installation can be found here and the PPA can be found here.  These drivers completely solved the issue for me.  Problems like these can be extremely frustrating when you’re using Linux, but fortunately there are many dedicated people out there who are willing to donate their time and expertise to fix them.

NetworkWorld has a great write-up of how to debug Windows crashes using WinDbg and the generated memory dumps.  As a programmer, it’s an extremely valuable tool.  Even for a normal user who wants to get to the bottom of some mysterious crash, WinDbg can be just the tool for the job (although I doubt the average user will actually do so).

This site has a very detailed guide for performing this task, should you ever need to.  For example, in my case, I had to clean install Windows, but when I started the install, it wanted CD/DVD disk drive drivers, which I didn’t have (and which it should have had, since it had obviously started up from the drive).  Apparently, it’s some SATA-related issue if I remember correctly, but long story short, booting Windows from the USB stick worked and was faster, too.

Method #2, the registry hack, from this page did the trick.  Double installing apparently works, too, but after the hassles I had gone through I didn’t want to reinstall Windows (even over itself) yet again.