Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Resolution

Day 57

I'm coming up on the two month mark with me Eee PC, and that conveniently syncs up pretty close with the start of 2009. I have a personal resolution to help ring in the new year, but I thought I could make one for the Eee as well - and that is to play well with others.

Well, other computers anyways. I never had much luck getting my Eee to find network printers at work, and I've never even bothered to set up a home network. Counting the Eee, and the soon-to-be acquired Dell from my Mom's office (I was volunteered to set up two new computers for her and that is my commission) I have six machines at my disposal and I think it's time I figure out how to make them all work together.

My ultimate goal is to get a multi-player first person shooter game up and running. I skipped many classes during college to play Half-Life with buddies in the dorms, and I'd like to recreate that in the basement with my assortment of computers. Linux and the gaming world have a love-hate relationship, so this may be an unattainable goal, but aren't all new year's resolutions?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Get Around Flash Videos that Crash Firefox

Day 48

I blogged on day 24 the woes of watching flash videos with Firefox. Every third video or so will cause Firefox (and sometimes the entire Eee) to freeze for about a minute before presenting a pop up asking if you want to terminate the program. Conveniently, when Firefox restarts it asks if you'd like to restore tabs from the previous session. I could live with this if I didn't have to wait for the error message - it feels like forever when you're anxiously waiting to Barry Maniroll yourself.

Here's a simple workaround. Instead of starting Firefox by double clicking on the icon or choosing it from the launch menu, open it using the console. In easy mode, press ctrl+alt+t, or in advanced mode select it from launch-->applications-->systems (I actually have it added to my desktop for quick access). Simply type "Firefox" and hit enter. You can even add a web address in the console to save a step once Firefox is open.

The advantage to this is that if/when a flash video freezes, you don't have to wait for the termination message to display. Simply close the console, and Firefox will terminate. When you reload it, it will ask if you want to continue from where you left off.

This doesn't fix the Linux/Flash problem, but using the console does make it a bit more tolerable.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Link is Down Message

This is a follow-up to a previous post, Strange Icons.
I'm still having occasional sightings of this mysterious wifi icon. While I don't have the answer to what it's all about and why it appears, I have some new findings I thought I'd share. The other day I decided to look around the Eee in easy mode. I was hardwired in, and I immediately spotted a familiar icon. It was just like the mystery icon I had been noticing in advanced mode, only without the red warning symbol. Strange. Why would it appear when I was successfully connected through my wireless router?

The next time the strange icon appeared, I checked the network connection tab. There was a strange status message - "Link is down." What link? And if it is down, why could I still surf the web?

I think I can safely say the icon is not an indicator or government monitoring or that my Eee has developed self awareness, but I'm still not sure what it means. If I can still connect to the Internet, it can't be that big of a deal.

I should instead be worrying that Christmas is in less than a week and I haven't gone shopping yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to Record Skype Conversations

Day 42

I remember using AIM in late 1999 for voice chat. Sure, it was a beta feature - there was some serious delay and the quality was sub par - but the feature was available none the less. So when I first fired up Skype, I didn't see what all the hype was about. I soon learned the true potential is hidden behind skype credits ,which gives the caller the ability to call ordinary phone numbers.

It's just over 2 cents a minute to call anywhere in the US, so I thought it was worth experimenting with. I purchased $10 in Skype credits and punched in my wife's cell number. Since Skype ships with the Asus Eee, I figured there would be no problems, and I was correct. The connection was clear with only occasional digital distortion.

But there's really no need to spend my credits calling my wife when my own cell phone does the trick. Instead, I wanted to see the potential in using Skype for podcasting. Phone interviews are a great way to keep a podcast interesting - if you can get a quality recording.

While recording Skype conversations in Windows is fairly easy, there are not many resources available for doing so in Linux. Googling the topic brought up many pages, but few solid answers. There were a handful of tutorials for setting up Audacity to take the Skype signal, but they were either too difficult to follow, or led to dead ends in the program settings. One tutorial gave suggestions for recording through the command line, which was a concept I simply couldn't grasp. There was even a website that detailed how to connect two laptops with a series of patch cords going to and from the microphone and headphone jacks. All these "solutions" almost made me give up on recording a Skype conversation. Until I found Skype Call Recorder.

SCR is a simple-to-use addon for Skype. When a call is placed, it saves the recording as a stereo mp3 track. The convenient thing is that the caller is recorded on the left speaker track and the callee is on the right making it extremely easy to edit (If you want to know how to edit this using Audacity, leave a comment, and I'll post a quick how-to).

Skype Call Recorder can be downloaded here as a .deb package that is specifically for the Eee, so there should be no problems installing. There weren't any for me. Just click on the link and let the Eee do the hard part.

Skype Call Recorder is great for podcasting and recording phone interviews.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Problems with Shell Console

Day 41

I was trying to work through some command line tutorials and the console kept messing with the text I was entering. Every few minutes it would start entering text with space between each letter so that it l o o k e d l i k e t h i s. Needless to say, my console commands didn't work very well.

I have no idea why this was happening, and that only added to the frustration. The only way to fix the problem was to close the shell and then open a new one.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 40

My thirty-something year old cousin asked me to drop by her house today to help set up a digital photo frame that she bought someone for Christmas. I had a few minutes to kill between holiday errands and when I told her I'd be there, so I hit up a Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and found an unencrypted wifi signal coming from a hotel nearby.

I don't know if it's related or not, but the first site I went to (Twitter - I actually just got back in to using this site. Follow me if you'd like!) brought up a certificate expiration warning, and so did Gmail and Digg. It was then that I noticed the clock in the corner of the screen was off by about 5 hours. Strange. I figured something wasn't set up right with the hotel's signal.

Tonight when I fired up Firefox I again got the same warnings. It at least reminded me to reset the clock. When I opened the clock menu, I found the reason for all the confusion. My Eee thought it was 2018.

I don't know what caused my Eee PC to age ten years in the course of a day, but I'm going to assume it had something to do with connecting to an unsecure wireless signal... Unless it happens again. Then I'll have to find something else to blame.

And on a somewhat related note - My cousin was excited to see me walk in with the Eee. She told me she bought one for her 14 year old son for Christmas. When I asked if it was loaded with Windows or Linux, she guessed Windows. I'm half hoping that it's really Xandros - it'll give me the opportunity to go over there and spread the good word to a new generation.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

How to Make USB Christmas Lights

Day 39

I spent all day pulling the decorations out of the basement and making the house look festive. We had no ornament casualties this year, but we did have two sets of lights that were only half working.

A few hours after I threw them out, I got an idea. I dug a set out of the trash and plugged it in. After spotting a section that was still working, I unplugged and cut the section off the rest of the string. My goal - to make Christmas lights for my Eee PC.

Step 1 - Cut the lights
The lights actually had three wires. one was connected to each bulb on the string, and I needed one of the others to complete the circuit. The third must have been a ground or something, so I simply removed it. I spliced both ends of the wires and twisted the two on one end together so all I would need to do is connect a power source to the other end.

Step 2 - Test the circuit
I had 8 lights in my string. I know that a USB port only sends out 5 volts of power, so before trying it on my laptop, I pressed the two wires against the terminals on a 9 volt battery. They lit up, but it was quite dim, so I knew I needed to shorten my string if it were to light up on the Eee. I cut it in half.

Step 3 - Connecting the USB.
I dug up a USB cord for an old printer that is no longer functioning and cut it about 8 inches from the connector. There were fours wires inside - red, black, green, blue. The green and blue are for data transfer, so they were useless. I stripped the red and black and connected them to the ends of my lights. Just to be safe, I wound some electrical tape around all the exposed wires before connecting them to the Eee.

They aren't the brightest, but I now have some yule-tide bling for my laptop. I was thinking about picking up a toggle switch so I could turn them on and off, but I'd love it even more if I could find the console command to stop power to the USB port. I Googled it, but didn't have much luck. Either way, USB lights are a quick and easy project for nerds caught up in the holiday spirit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to add applications to the Launch Menu

Day 37

Having to first open the console in order to run a program seems a bit redundant. Besides, I don't trust myself to remember what needs to be typed in to call up each program. With a bit of exploring, I found it easy to add applications to their respective sub menus in the Launch menu.

Let's use my new favorite game, BomberClone for example. I wanted to put it with the other games (specifically categorized in the “arcade” section. Here's how to do it:

  1. Click on the Launch menu.
  2. Mouse over “applications” and right click.
  3. Choose “edit menu” from the list.
  4. Navigate to the sub menu you wish to add your application to. In this case it was Applications --> Games --> Arcade.
  5. Click the “new item” icon at the top of the screen and enter the name of the application as you want it to be displayed in the menu.
  6. To the right of the menu editor, there are several fields where you can add information about the application. The only essential field is the command field. Type the console command for the application in that field. In my case, it was the word “bomberclone.”
  7. If you want to add an icon, click on the box to the right of the application name. You can either choose from the set of system icons, or browse for your own. I got lucky – there was a bomb icon already in the laptop somewhere.
The process was much easier than I expected. There's probably a way to do it through the command line as well, but I have no desire to figure it out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm the Bomb

Day 36

Linux isn't known for it's incredible gaming abilities (although Digg is abuzz with stories about someone porting Prey to Linux), and unfortunately, neither am I. Given the preference, I'd still rather pull out the old NES or Sega Genesis than turn on the Wii that's in the living room. The reason I mention these archiac systems is because tonight I got to take my Eee with me down memory lane.

One of my favorite games as a kid was Mega Bomberman for the Sega. Bomberman was forever trapped in a series of mazes with a seemingly endless supply of bombs hidden somewhere on his person. Occasionally a dinosaur bearing a slight resemblance to Yoshi comes to help, and at some point in the game, Bomberman is called upon to fight a giant banana. Imagine my glee when I found an open source version called BomberClone in Synaptic.

It installed no problem, but does not automatically show up in the Launch menu. Instead, it runs simply by typing "bomberclone" in the console.

It's similar to Bomberman, however, sadly, the giant banana is absent. It has a multi-player setting though, so if anyone is interested in trying to play a game, comment me and maybe we can figure something out.

No Bananas or good-natured dinosaurs, but BomberClone is still lots of fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Comments and Santa

Day 35

Cybermoron from the EeeUser forum informed me that comments weren't working (thanks, Steve!), so if you were interesting in sharing your thoughts, please do so - the problem has been fixed. And here I thought I was writing to myself! At least I know it was a problem with the comments on my blog and not with the content. I was afraid it was coming across as tasteless or obscene.

The approaching holiday season has given me an opportunity to do a little street team work for the Eee PC. For the past month it has gone pretty much everywhere with me; it has raised some eyebrows, and sparked some interesting conversations. I've made sure to contribute to these honestly and fairly, revealing all the cons as well as pros to owning this little guy. Most agree that the positive outweighs the negative; I know of at least two Asus Eee PCs that have been purchased because of me - One of my colleagues purchased one for each of her two children. There were others that had only heard whispers of these things known as netbooks, and I'd like to think I shed enough light on the subject to persuade them to seriously consider buying one to put under the Christmas tree.

If you've managed to avoid the naughty list this year, here's why you should ask Santa for an Asus Eee PC.

  • Excellent battery life - With screen brightness at about 60% and wireless on, I get almost 4 hours of intermittent use before needing to plug in.
  • Basic Mode & Advanced Mode - With Xandros Linux you get something not available on Windows - a choice for user interface.
  • Portability - I carry mine around like it's a hardcover book. It I were a woman and had a purse, it would easily fit in there next to (or in place of!) the daily planner and Blackberry.
  • Price and Compatibility - It's under $300 and it's 99% compatible with proprietary applications such as Microsoft Office.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Strange icons

Day 33
Last night I noticed something strange while doing some last minute emailing before bed. Normally, the familiar green bars icon sits comfortably in my menu bar informing me that I have a good Internet connection. When I glanced down, I saw a different icon. I was still able to connect to the internet, so it wasn't a broken connection. I was actually quite paranoid that it was a cryptic message from Asus informing me that the government was reading my gmail, so I quickly restarted the laptop. When I reconnected, the green bar came back, and has remained ever since.

Any ideas?

Friday, December 5, 2008

I Miss Ktorrent Continued

Days 29-31

I have spent the past three days trying to reinstall Ktorrent. It's becoming the itch that can't be scratched. Here is the truncated list of all my failed attempts so far.

  • After checking previous posts, I started a new thread on EeeUser in hopes of the answer. No luck yet.
  • Someone suggested removing all references to the offending libqt3c102-mt file. It didn't work (but here is the how-to if you want to give it a go).
  • I found an article explaining how a similar error was coming up when people tried to install an old version of Skype. The article linked to the Skype homepage with directions to reinstall an updated version which also installs the needed dependencies. Not only did it not work, my Eee damn near threw a fit when I tried to downgrade my version of Skype.
  • Another site said to add two new repositories, so I did. This is the current list on my laptop with the new ones appearing at the end.
deb common main
deb p900 main
deb en main
deb p701 main
deb p701 etch main
deb dccri-3.0 main
deb xandros4 main
deb p701 main etch
deb-src v1.1 main
deb p701 dev
deb binary/
deb-src source/

Adding the repositories got rid of the original libqt3c102-mt error, but only to replace it with a more complexing one:

The following packages have unmet dependencies:
ktorrent: Depends: libgeoip1 (>= 1.3.17) but it is not installable
E: Broken packages

I have no idea what libgeoip1 is. It doesn't even come up in a Google search. Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Miss Ktorrent

Day 28

I spent some time yesterday and today replicating my original Xandros install that was destroyed during my botched attempt at loading EeeUbuntu. Fortunately, this blog was a great resource. Since I've been reporting everything I do with the Eee, I had no problem re-downloading packages and copying console commands. The only thing I was unable to recover was Ktorrent.

I made the mistake of being quite vague regarding where/how I downloaded it in my original post. I believe I found a tutorial and installed the package using the command line. I may have added a repository, but I can't be sure. Regardless, I couldn't find the tutorial I used, so I decided to take a new approach.

I went right to Synaptic since it is usually the easiest avenue. Ktorrent came right up, along with several other torrent applications. When I tried downloading it, however, I got a somewhere damning error message. Synaptic told me that something called libqt3c102-mt was required but it would not be installed. This seemed like an awfully pissy message to be receiving from a computer. Either my Eee had turned into a temperamental teenage girl, or there was a conflict with the Ktorrent package and Xandros.

The equivalent of the Asus Eee taking its football and going home.

No biggie. I decided to try another application. After all, what difference does it make?

I couldn't tell you. Most of them wouldn't install for me. Some, like BitTorrent and BitTornado required python, which apparently isn't an option on the Eee, and others like Transmission and Frostwire would appear to download, but would never load.

I tried every torrent on the list, and the only one that seemed to function properly was Azureus. I hated every minute of using it. So much that I would rather nothing than use Azureus. I miss Ktorrent. Does anyone know how to get it back on my Eee?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Punk Rock Elmo on the Eee

Day 27

Listen to Punk Rock Elmo, recorded on the Asus Eee

Linux isn't known for its audio prowess, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of packages hidden in the repositories for those who dare try to push the limits. The most popular of course is Audacity which is typically used for podcasts and light audio editing. I wanted to put it to the test and see if it and the Asus Eee could handle recording a multi-track, musical composition.

My daughter will be a year-and-a-half by Christmas, and her life currently revolves around Sesame Street's Elmo. That furry monster is on constantly in the house and I can't help but find myself wandering around whistling the theme song. This will be my sample song. I grew up on punk rock (and it's still my guilty pleasure), so I thought I would combine the two and see what happened.

I consider myself a mediocre musician on most instruments, and although I can play the drums, I didn't have a real drumset handy, so I hunted down a copy of Hydrogen. This is a drum machine similar to the commercial product known as Fruity Loops. I installed it from a .deb package I downloaded from the Hydrogen Sourceforge site. It installed fine, but there was no program icon in the launch menu so it had to be started from the command line (simply by typing the word hydrogen). The screen sized forced me to scroll horizontally through the drum tracks, but other than being a minor irritation, this did not affect the program in any way. After I had sequenced the drums, I exported it as a .wav and moved on to Audacity.

I played with Audacity in the past, and found that the sound card on the Eee does a decent job recording one track, but once that exists, it pretty much sounds like mud for any additional tracks. I was planning on importing the drum track and then recording two guitars and a bass - four tracks total. To do this, I would have to get a bit creative.

Rather than importing the drum track into Audacity, I instead loaded it into the default Music Manager that comes with the Eee. I plugged my mic into the 1/8" jack and aimed it at my guitar amp. I was able to record through Audacity while listening to the drum track playing through the Music Manager. This way Audacity could stay at its one track recording maximum, but I still had something to follow along with.

It was a tedious process, but it worked. I repeated it with the other tracks. After each track, I did some quick track cleaning (amplified and removed noise), and then saved it as an mp3.

When all the recording was done, I imported the four tracks into Audacity and synced them up. After a bit of tweeking, it was good to go. The quality isn't fantastic, but it's a solid little recording.

Does this prove that Audacity is to the Eee what Garage Band is to the Mac? Not really. But it'll get the job done if you're will to work around the issues. And the next time you see Elmo, I hope you picture him kicking ass in a mosh pit with the rest of his muppet pals.