You can kill the background for speed, if you wish.[x]

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thoughts on Slackware

When I got my new laptop (a Lenovo Thinkpad T530), I decided to do a distro switch at the same time. I had been running Ubuntu 11.something, was wary of the direction Ubuntu seems to be going these days, and also wanted to try my hand at a distro that's a little less hands-off now that I've been running Linux for several years.

So here was my plan: partition my drive as usual (small Windows partition, large home partition, large data partition, swap) and then two Linux root partitions: one 80GB partition for Linux Mint Debian Edition for my daily driver and a 40GB partition for Slackware64 14.0 as my experimental distro.

Well, as it turns out, LMDE had issues on my Thinkpad - it had some pretty severe video issues, the screen as far as X was concerned didn't seem to map to the physical screen, things were wrapping around, the cursor wasn't clicking where it appeared to be - just weird stuff was happening. So I decided to just give Slackware a try. After some reading up, I installed it, threw a startx at the login prompt, and off I went. I never ended up looking back - that sad abandoned LMDE install is still languishing on its 80GB partition, unused and unwanted. One of these days I'll blow it away and add the space to my Slackware partition, but I haven't needed to yet. I negotiated through many travails with UEFI completely within Slackware, and now have everything set up very nicely, with Linux as an equal in the UEFI loader and default-booting. I'm sure I could have wrestled LMDE into submission, but it turns out I haven't had to - I've been loving Slackware so much I've rarely missed it at all.

It's certainly been a learning experience - which is exactly what I was looking for. I really like Slackware's philosophy - there are very few distributed binary packages available for Slackware. Instead, the community maintains and distributes BuildScripts - semi-standardized scripts that automate the building of Slackware packages, setting all the necessary ./configure flags and such. It took some getting used to - it's a far cry from Synaptic to be sure - but as I got the hang of it, I've appreciated it quite a bit. I was pointed at sbopkg by a helpful IRC member, which is something of a package manager for Slackware - it searches and downloads BuildScripts and further automates the process of building the package and installing it. It does no dependency resolution beyond showing you the .info file that lists required packages and providing a basic queue to fill yourself with dependencies before it installs the actual package. Again, this requires a more hands-on and somewhat tedious approach, but it also gives you full control over the process, which is excellent - and you avoid the dreaded dependency hell.

Basically, I love it. I've come across a couple SlackBuilds that were outdated, so I went in, tweaked a few things, upgraded the BuildScript to the latest version, and then contacted the maintainer with my patches. Two of those three (xmonad 0.11 and Clementine 1.1.1) were gladly accepted, integrated, and updated to the SlackBuilds site, with personal and helpful responses from their maintainers to my Slackware-noob self. I love the community, and how close Slackware keeps you to the source, which is what makes Linux (and Open Source in general) special. In fact, I don't think it's entirely coincidental that I also took the initiative to investigate, submit, and eventually fix a bug in the aforementioned Clementine, a fix that was quickly merged into the codebase, ready to be included in the next release.

This kind of thing is what FOSS is all about, and Slackware has done a lot to get me a lot closer to it, and it has also forced me to learn more about Linux and how things work. I wrestled with NetworkManager (which I had formerly used for wifi control) for a while before realizing it was a bit bullheaded and ignored most other common configuration, which caused problems with my dnsmasq configuration, so I dumped it for wicd, and everyone is much happier. And I learned a little more about how network support in Linux works.

On that note, the impetus for this post, which was, like all of my posts, intended to be much shorter: PulseAudio. Tonight I was wishing I had the ability to turn down individual applications, and from my experience with Ubuntu I knew that PulseAudio was able to do that. So I decided to see if I could install PulseAudio on Slackware. Sure enough, there were BuildScripts available, so I built and installed PulseAudio and its dependencies. I did the same for pavucontrol and paprefs, and then headed over to the PulseAudio wiki to see how to get it going. I added the necessary config files, added everyone to the audio group as recommended, but was having problems with a missing library:

Cannot open shared library /usr/lib64/alsa-lib/
Sure enough, that file didn't exist on my computer, so I did some further digging and found out I needed to build and install the alsa-plugins package. A quick trip back to sbopkg, and I had PulseAudio up and running, complete with individual application control. Success! And I learned a little bit about how the sound system works in Linux, and in case things go wrong, I know where the config files are - all things that were hidden behind the configuration and packaging of Ubuntu. I call that a success.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Making Natilus default to --no-desktop: GConf is your friend. (bonus tip: disabling that little fortune penguin in Linux Mint!)

In short: fire up your trusty gconf-editor, navigate to /apps/nautilus/preferences, and uncheck "show_desktop". Voila. For the fortunes, it's /desktop/linuxmint/terminal/show_fortunes.

After an ex-coworker was lauding its virtues, I switched to xmonad at work a while back, and I've loved it. But I've got it installed instead of Gnome on a Linux Mint install, so one annoyance is whenever a Nautilus window would pop up - say, if I plugged in a flash drive or opened a folder with GnomeDo - it would also take over rendering the desktop, which covered up my desktop via feh, added a window that would sometimes get detached if I wasn't careful, and generally did weird things. If I was running Nautilus manually I could just use nautilus --no-desktop, but I wasn't. So I set off looking for a way to make that --no-desktop the default. I found no end of dumb, hackish solutions like replacing Nautilus in /usr/bin with a symlink, or random xmonad config file hacks, but I don't like hackish things if I can avoid them. So I set off on my own, looking in the location I've gone to before in order to configure such things: gconf. I had previously embarked on a similar quest when trying to disable the fortune generator in Linux Mint - again, I found dumb hacks, but no one pointed to /desktop/linuxmint/terminal/show_fortunes, which is a simple and clean way to disable fortunes. I am sometimes disappointed in the internet. But anyway, I fired up gconf-editor and went hunting, and sure enough, under /apps/nautilus/preferences, there was a "show_desktop" option. I unchecked it, and now Nautilus leaves my desktop alone, allowing my lamprey to shine through.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Disabling the Caps Lock key in Linux

My personal laptop has had its Caps Lock key disabled for a while, because I find the Caps Lock key largely useless, and since I've been using Vim regularly at work, I've found it worse than useless - it's been counterproductive. Because when you're typing in the normal world and you accidentally have Caps Lock on, you realize that all your letters are coming out capitalized, and you backspace them and move on. But in Vim, if you accidentally bump the Caps Lock key, you're just trying to move around and all of a sudden your lines are disappearing, help starts popping up, it won't let you save or undo, and you start jumping all over the screen. Every time my screen stops doing what my fingers are telling it to do, it takes me a few (often destructive) seconds to figure out what the hell is going on, and it's usually the Caps Lock key.

So, to that end, I need to once again remap my Caps Lock key, but don't remember how to do it, and have to go back to my own more informative but longer blog post from a while back about remapping keys.  But I figured it'd be a lot easier in the future (and possibly helpful to others) to write a post dedicated to disabling the Caps Lock key, and since a quick Google turned up wrongdumb or temporary ways to do it, I will be doing myself, and perhaps you, a favor.  I also thought it'd be good to have a post without all the blathering, but you see how well that worked out.

So, how to disable your Caps Lock key in Linux, the Right WayTM:
  1. Open (or more likely create) an .xmodmap file in your home directory (vi ~/.xmodmap)
  2. Add the line remove lock = Caps_Lock to it
  3. Save and close
Changes here will take effect on an X restart - if you want to disable it right now, you can run xmodmap -e "remove lock = Caps_Lock" in a terminal, and it will take effect for your current session.  If this doesn't work, try also running xmodmap -e "keycode 66 =" to unmap the Caps Lock key completely - I had to do this on my work comptuer for some reason, despite all the "helpful" tutorials elsewhere on the internet.  If you also find this to be the case, add keycode 66 = to your ~/.xmodmap as well.  It's worth noting that the spaces around the equals sign are important in all of these commands.  If for some really strange reason you don't have xmodmap installed, you'll have to do that first, of course, but it should come with just about any distro.

If you want to, like I did in my original post, remap Caps Lock to a more useful key (say, Esc, vim users?), you can do so by adding the following lines instead. Something like this is actually what I have in place on my personal laptop, as it's remapped to mod5, which gives me an extra key to use for things like Compiz mappings.
remove lock = Caps_Lock
keycode 66 = {target keysym} {target keysym}
The first is what to replace Caps Lock, the second is an optional key for when you hit Shift+Caps Lock.  {target keysym} is a semi-friendly name like "Escape" or "k", and is obtained from pulling up a terminal and either running xmodmap -pke and scanning/grepping through the resulting list or, my favorite, running xev and mashing they keys you want to remap to find the "(keysym 0x##, [keysym name])" in the output.  A nifty way to do the latter is running xev | grep keysym - that will just spit out the needed line.  With xev, just close the white box that comes up to stop things.

If you do want to know about xmodmap and the wonders it can work in rearranging your keyboard to your satisfaction, or you want to move your Caps Lock key, by all means check out my original blog post, which goes into things in more depth.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

strtotime() weirdness

So today at work I found a bug in my (or possibly one of my coworkers') PHP code where strtotime() was being called without a unit - in this case it was strtotime("-91"). strtotime didn't, as I had hoped, assume I meant days, so I investigated as to what it did assume. Poking around the source proved a task that outlasted my curiosity, since I had no clue where the entry and exit to the code was, and it was a pretty complex bit of code. So instead I plugged in some numbers to the PHP command line. I subtracted the output of strtotime from time() to get the difference, and divided by 24*60*60 to get it in days, and got some very odd numbers indeed:
php> print (time() - strtotime("+91"))/24/60/60;
php> print (time() - strtotime("+1"))/24/60/60;
php> print (time() - strtotime("-1"))/24/60/60;
php> print (time() - strtotime("-2"))/24/60/60;
php> print (time() - strtotime("-2"))/24/60/60;
php> print (time() - strtotime("+2"))/24/60/60;
Interesting. So I decided to make some graphs, of course. I eventually came up with this bit of code:

php -r '$range = 5000; function doit($i, $posneg) { $diff = (time() - strtotime("$posneg$i"))/24/60/60; if($diff > 10000) { $diff -= 15207; } print "$posneg$i,$diff\n"; } for($i=-$range;$i<=$range;$i++) { $posneg = ($i <= 0 ? "" : "+"); if($i == 0) { doit(0,"-"); } doit($i,$posneg); if($i == 0) { doit(0,"+"); } }' > phpstrtotime5000.csv

The $diff adjustment bit is because I was getting a lot of numbers that were waaaaay up around 15212, and a bunch around 1, but nothing in between, so I adjusted the big nubmers so they could be seen on the vertical scale. This is what I ended up with - the whole range, then zoomed in from -500 to 500: As I was putting this blog post together, I realized I could have done strtotime("-91",0) to just calculate from a timestamp of zero, so I tried that out:

php -r '$range = 5000; function doit($i, $posneg) { $diff = strtotime("$posneg$i",0)/24/60/60; if($diff > 10000) { $diff -= 15207; } print "$posneg$i,$diff\n"; } for($i=-$range;$i<=$range;$i++) { $posneg = ($i <= 0 ? "" : "+"); if($i == 0) { doit(0,"-"); } doit($i,$posneg); if($i == 0) { doit(0,"+"); } }' > phpstrtotime5000_2.csv

This had the apparent effect of getting rid of all those weird outliers and replacing them with zeroes. That, combined with the number, made me realize that the 15212 number was in fact time()/24/60/60 - meaning that strtotime() probably returns zero regardless of the base time provided for those ranges. Here are my graphs from that run:

Now, I have no clue why strtotime() behaves like this. I know it's not defined how it should respond, but these numbers obviously have some kind of pattern, but I'm not sure what it is.

Some other tidbits: the last numbers that don't return zero are +/-2459, and the slope of the line is approximately -36.57 seconds with a y-intercept of precisely -8 hours. The little slope in the middle is in the range (-100,100), with a slope of exactly -1 hour, and a y-intercept of exactly -8 hours again. The zero sections occur every 100 values - the function is zero from [100n+60,100n+99] for positive numbers, [100n-60,100n-99] for negative numbers, |n| > 1. For |n| <=1 - (-200,200) - there is the aforementioned discontinuity, plus a slight change in slope outside the (-100,100) range. Outside that range - in the ranges (-200,-100] and [100,200) - the slope is -47.94 seconds, again with that y-intercept of -8 hours. "+0" and "-0" are both 0.33333 days, but "0" returns 0 days.

I can guess that the zeroes are related to minutes in an hour or seconds in a minute, with 60 being a factor there - something is defined for 0-59, but not for 60-99. The y-intercept appears to be related to the current hour/time of day - my first sampling was taken at 1:XX UTC (6:XX local time) and the second at 2:XX UTC (7:XX local time), and the y-intercept changed from -7 to -8.

For reference, I was running the first set of stats at approximately 1:49:30am UTC, Friday, August 26, and the second stats some time afterwards. I'm in Pacific time, currently GMT-7.

I'm not sure is the cause of all this weirdness, and I know it doesn't matter at all, but it is really interesting - maybe sometime I'll have the time to plumb through the code and figure it out. If anyone else wants to play with it, I've put my numbers in a Google Spreadsheet that you can check out and download if you want.

P.S. I had formerly run the numbers with the upper graph, and the results were the exact same slopes (36.57 seconds, 1 hour, just y-mirrored, but with a y-intercept of 7 hours. Odd, but probably significant.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hey look, I made some xk3d!

So last night someone on Facebook linked to xkcd, which for April Fools' day converted several of their comics to 3D with some clever Javascript and image slicing. In typical xkcd style, Randall also posted a link with instructions about how the system worked, and importantly, how you could convert older comics to 3D yourself if you wanted. If you did so and sent them in, they may put them on the site.

So I, of course, immediately checked my all-time-favorite xkcd comics - the five-part barrel series. None of them had been done, so I decided to tackle my favorite, the culmination. It was a lot of fun - slicing, cloning, sorting, all of course in GIMP, and by the end I had a nice 3D version of the comic, so I sent it in, figuring that a million other geeks also held these comics near and dear, and at least a bunch of those had gotten around to it before me.

But this morning, I checked my email, and what do you know, I had a email that said "Thanks!" in reply to my submission, and sure enough, there was my 3D conversion, with my name at the bottom and everything! How cool is that?

So of course, I had to go through and convert the rest of the barrel series - If it's still April Fools', you may notice that all of them are now 3D. I sent them in about half an hour ago, and got a prompt reply saying they'd all been put up, and complementing me on dealing with the "slice-orthogonal plane". Awesome, and totally worth being a few minutes late to Engineering Probability and Stats for.

I also had to hack together a version of the webpage to test these guys with - fortunately, since it was all Javascript magic, that was as easy as saving and modifying a copy of the homepage. It was as easy as adding a parameter to the omgitsin3d initialization function for the comic num, and have it use that as the folder to take the images from in the script, which let me throw each set into its own folder, modify the JSON in the HTML file, and adjust as necessary. Then it was just a copy/paste of the JSON into the comics.json file and they were done. In case anyone else wants to do some conversions but doesn't want to go through the trouble of building a testing thing, I zipped this guy up with the original comic I did, and you can download it if you like. You'll still have to read up on how it all works, but this should help testing it out. And of course, xkcd is CC-noncom-by-attrib, so this all, of course, is thanks to Randall and xkcd, and is based off of his comics.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Connecting my w385 to Ubuntu Linux

So I have a trusty old Motorola w385, which has a USB-mini port on it, so I can connect it to my computer. Trouble is getting it to actually do anything. I did it a long time ago, to back up my text messages, and remembered having a lot of trouble to do so. But I went to try it again, with my computer set up, and still had trouble, unless I came across the dead-simple method in this thread - grabbing the ids from lsusb, and plugging them into modprobe usbserial. That set up the /dev/ttyUSB0, which allowed me to use KMobileTools to backup my texts. This is mostly for my reference, but if it manages to help someone else (I'm lazy halfway through a beer, so that's unlikely), good for you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

More Stupid Vim Tricks

Today I had an SVN log that was in descending order by date (most recent at the top), and I wanted it in ascending order (most recent at the bottom). Now there may be a flag on the svn log command to do this, but I thought I'd see what I could do with Vim. One of the most useful tools for doing such things is macros. I read this article a while back about using macros over regexes for many situations, and it's proved to be a very useful technique, and one that looked to be of use here, too. Here's what the svn log looks like:

r21783 | jbradsha | 2010-08-04 14:41:02 -0700 (Wed, 04 Aug 2010) | 2 lines

Log notes

r21765 | jbradsha | 2010-08-03 16:09:05 -0700 (Tue, 03 Aug 2010) | 2 lines

Log notes

r21519 | jbradsha | 2010-07-22 16:51:04 -0700 (Thu, 22 Jul 2010) | 4 lines

Log notes

And so on.

The log notes can be of any length and number of lines, so obviously this wasn't going to be a straightforward task. But it ended up being pretty easy with macros. What I wanted to do was sort those blocks by revision number. To do that, I figured the easiest way is to get each block on one line in a way that I could revert, sort the lines, and then put them back. So I put my cursor on the first character of the first line and did this:

:'<,'> s/[\r\n]/#!#/g
:% sort
:% s/#!#/\r/g

Which quite nicely did the trick. Here's what each bit did:
  1. Started recording a macro labelled "j" (for "join")
  2. Started visual selection mode
  3. Searched for two newlines followed by ----: this selects up to the end of the line before the end of the current block (by going two lines before the beginning of the next)
  4. Within that selection, replace all newlines with a unique symbol (#!#), making it all one line ready to be re-exploded afterwards
  5. Move down one line to the beginning of the next block
  6. Stop recording the macro
  7. Run the macro 100 times (I had less than 100 commits to sort)
  8. Sort the now-one-line commits, increasing in number (sort! would reverse the sort)
  9. Replace my delimiters with newlines, restoring the original format
It may sound and look horrendous, but it was pretty straighforward, and macros are a lot easier when you're actually doing them. I just love the power and flexibility you have to do such things in Vim - I can't compare it to emacs, but no other editor allows you nearly this amount of power or flexibility. And if I had wanted to do an even more complex sort, I could have easily piped it out to a command line utility instead of using Vim's built-in sort. But for my purposes, this was plenty.