Wednesday, February 14, 2007

This Valentines' Day, Give Dog Food

Valentines' day is commercialised, unnecessary, miserable if you're single, and possibly expensive if you're not. You can approach it being bitter and cynical ('I don't do Valentines' day.') or go along with the herd but there isn't much in between.

I'm not really bitter - love is worth celebrating! I have happy memories from Valentines' day, and happy memories from other days, and other kinds of love.

So, here's the idea:

There are many ways that the cost of dinner and a movie / a box of chocolates / whatever else you'd buy on Valentines' day, could be spent. For organisations that rely on donations, this money (or a few hours of your time) could make a huge difference. If you're single this year, or just not into the whole Valentines' day hype, have a look at GreaterGoodSA and see if you can find a way to share some love anyway.

Since I woke up this morning not next to a lover, but next to a small tortoiseshell cat left as a tiny kitten in a stormwater drain, my R50 went to TEARS, the animal rescue society that found her. I feel warm already, and anyway, good sex and sunsets are free :p

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Xorg drivers for VIA Unichrome Pro P4M890

After an entire day with my monitor refusing to refresh at > 60hz, this is somewhere between a rant and a howto - if you're in the same situation, you'll understand! Anyway, the background is that I bought (for a site) the cheapest Foxconn motherboard Sahara sells, which comes with onboard graphics in the form of the VIA P4M890 integrated graphics chipset. Install Ubuntu 6.10, boot, and discover that everything works... except my screen resolution settings. Even when the screen resolution graphical config tool says it's running at 85hz, the way my brain squirms every time I look at the screen tells me it isn't. After establishing that the problem isn't the cheap Sahara monitor (the smallest 17" I've ever seen) or an xorg.conf setting, it's off to the Ubuntu forums, where I find a foretaste of things to come in the form of one user's comment
'Oh, that's a LOVELY piece of hardware *rolls eyes*'
To cut a long and horribly flickering story short, VIA does in fact provide linux drivers for the P4M890 chipset - they're just in the basement, in a locked cabinet hidden in a disused lavatory behind a door with a sign reading "beware of leopard". In fact, they can be found at the Via Arena site, and there's a recent howto here.

Useful things to note, or, avoid making the mistakes I made:
  • There are xorg and XFree86 drivers here - read the fine print carefully. if you find the install script looking for Xfree86-specific things, don't try to change it, you've downloaded the wrong driver package.
  • There is also an installation guide, written by someone who does not speak much english. This is ironic, because all their PR material is written by a gushing woman name Fiona Gatt, who speaks perfect english.
  • The installation guide is supplemented (and also contradicted at times) by the files Installation.txt and src/release.txt inside the source tarball. None of these make much sense alone.
  • Don't try the OpenChrome drivers, because although in general they seem to be a better idea than the VIA-provided drivers, they don't yet support this chipset (although other Unichrome Pro chipsets apparently are fine)
Lastly, the VIA arena site is almost calculated to instill rage in anyone looking there for graphics drivers. I AM HERE BECAUSE MY REFRESH RATE IS 60HZ, I DO NOT WANT TO BUY YOUR STUFF. OR CLICK ADSENSE ADS. OR GET UNREAL TOURNAMENT MAPS. I JUST WANT MY SCREEN TO STOP FLICKERING. Everything is white. You cannot find xorg drivers unless you know the direct URL. The latest packaged graphics drivers are for Fedora Core 4. aargh.

Underwater Photos

Taken by my brother over December, here. I'm the scuba diver in the bubbles :p The rest of the photos were taken without scuba gear ('stealth mode'), which apparently is why the turtle was so curious.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ubuntu Live CD Customization II

I posted this a while ago, and I've recently updated the Live CD mentioned in the post. It's still based on Ubuntu Dapper Drake, and I still used the howto here to get the basics. A useful find was this script, which frees about 100Mb by removing all the non-essential packages.

Here are few other tweaks:

  • To place an icon on the desktop when the CD loads, put the relevant .desktop file in /etc/skel/desktop
  • To put files in the user's home directory, place them in /etc/skel
  • If one of the files you want the user to be able to access easily is a pdf (such as a user guide), place a shortcut on the desktop be be warned that evince (the standard pdf viewer) doesn't open maximized. Annoyingly, you can't control this from the command line either. What you can do is leave a "last used settings" file in the user's home directory, to fool evince into thinking that the last pdf it opened was opened maximised. The easiest way to do this is to open any pdf, maximise it, close evince and copy the file ~/.gnome2/evince/ev-metadata.xml to /etc/skel/.gnome2/evince/ev-metadata.xml on the livecd.
  • Usually you'll want to get rid of the "install" icon on the desktop. This avoids the user accidentally installing ubuntu with the CD you swore wouldn't touch their existing operating system. To find the .desktop file to edit (make it point to something else you'd like on your desktop - although according to this howto, you should just be able to edit the script that copies it on, which didn't work for me) use locate ubiquity*.desktop
  • To change the desktop background to your own 1600×1200 png: Edit the file /var/lib/gconf/debian.defaults/%gconf-tree.xml and change the string /usr/share/backgrounds/warty-final-ubuntu.png to point to your file.

Hungry Ghosts and Misc. Links

According to Japanese mythology, I'm being tormented at night by
"spirits of jealous or greedy people who, as punishment for their mortal vices, have been cursed with an insatiable hunger for blood"
otherwise known as mosquitos (wikipedia: Hungry ghost). Until DDT is back on pharmacy shelves, there's only one real soultion to late-night buzzing: Lemmings (thanks mike for the link)

For the morning after, though, there's always Caffeine. This helpful site tells you how much of it you'll find in a long list of drinks and foods. I particularly like the Death By Caffeine Calculator.