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Friday, November 20, 2009


These are some old photos of my cats. The gray tabby is no longer with us. It simply disappeared one day. Hopefully, he's doing alright.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My (real) great deal on

I buy my Office Supplies at This is a follow up on my shopping experience with After my previous attempt to make the deal of a life-time and buy a ultra-modern laptop for only $0.95, I exchanged emails with Keith B. from Shoplet. After our "rocky" start (as he kindly tagged my "I demand an explanation" emails), he was very eager to help me solve my problem. He even went the extra mile and got me an extra $50 coupon (I already got a 10% discount coupon for my initial order).
Thus, I decided to give it another try. I went on the site and browsed around for some time until I found some things I like. I mainly looked at computer products and office supplies. I selected a few, including a Wii wheel remote, some USB hubs, microSD cards and others, but for now I only bought these:
  • a 2GB DDR2 SDRAM Memory Module - I need this because my last eBay bid did not worked out;
  • Newton Peripherals MoGo Mouse BT - Optical - this seems very interesting; I'm realy currious to see how it looks and works and just in case it's really really cool, I bought a few.
  • a camera pocket tripod - I wanted to get one for some time.
Overall, I was very happy with the content of my cart so I went to checkout. Since I'm familiar to PayPal, I decided to pay using that. Including UPS ground shipping and NY taxes, I had to pay only $13 (thanks to the coupon I got from Keith) and I got some very cool items. Anyway, that's not what I was after; Elena argued that I spent too much time browsing the site, but for me it was very fun. More fun than going to a real computer shop.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Karmic Koala doesn't like my display

Yesterday I installed Karmic Koala on my office PC. I had a Jaunty installation before that I did not used/customize much so I figured there's not much for me to gain in an upgrade. Thus, I did a fresh install from a 4GB USB stick. The installation went very well, taking less than 15 minutes boot-to-reboot. Another thing I liked is that there was no need to unplug & replug the USB stick during the installation (this was required by Jaunty and earlier versions).
The first things I noticed is that overall the system is much nicer than Jaunty:
  • the icon theme has greater details and nicer design,
  • it has up-to-date packages not available in Jaunty (like Octave 3.2),
  • start up time has lowered (not at much as others say, but then again, my PC is not cutting edge),
  • the new IM client is empathy (I'm using it right now, but I'm not sure I like it better than Pidgin).
This means that upgrading my home PC will be a step forward (that I can't do right now because of other work).
One thing that I then noticed as annoying was the slow resolution (800x600) and the incapacity to make it larger. I then realized this happens in Xubuntu 9.10, too. Therefore it's not related to Xubuntu (as I thought before).
I spend some time on forums, trying to find a direct solution for this problem only to find out that something changed in X and something else changed in the kernel, and one is using the other, and there's another link point to another 5 pages discussion and then another link, and so on.
One thing that I got by browsing though all these forum posts was this: X in Ubuntu Karmic Koala comes with no xorg.conf because it's suppose to autodetect the video card and display settings. It does not happen in my case. I blamed the video card.
Next thing I found useful is that I can make X write a configuration for me using the command:
X -configure
This is new stuff for me, because I used x86cfg (or something similar) to do this way back (like 2-3 years ago). Anyway, this creates a file called in my home directory which I then moved into /etc/X11, renamed it to xorg.cfg, and restarted the Gnome Display Manager (gdm) service.

This did not solve the problem either. So I went and looked into /var/log/Xorg.0.log to see if I get some pointers on whats happening. I saw a lot of messages like this:
(II) intel(0): EDID for output VGA1
(II) intel(0): Not using default mode "640x350" (vrefresh out of range)
(II) intel(0): Not using default mode "640x400" (vrefresh out of range)
(II) intel(0): Not using default mode "720x400" (vrefresh out of range)
... and so on

Then I realized that it's not the video card, but the display that is not being detected correctly. So I added the following lines to my /etc/X11/xorg.conf (I found something similar on forums) inside the "Monitor" section:
HorizSync 28-64
VertRefresh 43-75

This did the trick and after restarting gdm, I got a wonderful big resolution (which I trimmed down to 1024x768).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My (almost) great deal on

On Friday I was googling for a present for my niece: I was looking for a laptop with small display (less than 13", because she's still small). Not necessarily something fancy, but something that would not create problems when used by a child (enough RAM and decent processing power).
While looking around I found a deal that seemed too good to be true (and so it was) on a laptop Asus U20A-A1 for only $0.95. Including taxes and all, that would have been about $9. I refreshed the page a few times just to make sure I'm seeing right, then I went ahead and paid for it. The process went through without any problems, as the site created my account with my details using data from Paypal. I was hoping this is a special offer and not a mistake.
On Monday evening I got an email informing me that the item is "discontinued", my order was canceled, and I got a refund. I went on the site again and checked. It still said the item is "in stock". According to it, I could have ordered another few laptops, too :) However, the marketing person said the IT department did not update the site.
I was quite surprised to find out that such a big website does not have an automated inventory system in place. To be honest, I didn't believe it at first, but someone else from the site confirmed it to me.
Anyway, apart from my own unhappy experience, seems to be a nice place for IT shopping or at least browsing for information on products (since they have very detailed information on them). You can also receive a 10% coupon if you put one of their badges of your blog or site.
The thing that I liked most about their site is their green program where they offer recycled products and they keep track of the outcome of this program.

Surprice "gift" inside the Octave package

Today I noticed that my Octave packages got upgraded to Octave 3.2 (from 3.1). I don't know when that happened, but I immediately typed news to see what's new. I was expecting a few bug fixes, one or two new features and some code rewrites. I was wonderfully surprised by the large number of major changes that come with 3.2.
The full list is available on, but just to mention a few:
  • Many optimizations: sorting and searching, matrix transposition, array indexing, logical operators, etc.
  • Block comments: this will allow me to easily comment large chunks of code
  • Object Oriented Programming: I'm not sure how soon I'll get to use that, but it's nice to know it is there.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'm hooked to Linux

These days I "celebrate" 1 year since I switched to Linux as my main operating system. Before I continue, I have to say that I still use Windows XP at my office (older PC) and occasionaly at home (mostly for existing Texnic Center projects and Microsoft Excel).

I started using Ubuntu on a daily basis about 1 year ago (by upgrading from the until-then unfrequently used 8.04 to 8.10). I used Linux before but just to see what's new in it:

  • starting in 2002 with Mandrake 8 (I started by formatting by mistake the entire disk instead of the future home partition);
  • moving then to Mandriva Free 2004 (former Mandrake);
  • tried Ubuntu 6 (that I got from Tudor);
  • returned to Mandriva Free (2006, I believe);
  • played with Fedora (which I didn't like because I wasn't fond of Gnome);
  • tested Kubuntu 7.10 (because of KDE);
  • moved to Kubuntu 8.04 (which I didn't like because of KDE 4);
  • installed Ubuntu 8.04 (but didn't used it much);
  • upgraded to Ubuntu 8.10 (and switched to Linux).

I liked Ubuntu because I found it very easy to install applications on it. Since I do a lot of development, I also use the terminal quite frequently and the command line completion features also helped me a lot in my first days (and they still do). Overall, I'm very happy with it, although it requires more RAM than Windows XP to run smoothly (especially when you start Office applications). Currently, my 1GB RAM (don't laugh!) is doing it's job, but I ordered more RAM on eBay (that's also a premier for me). I had my ups-and-downs with Ubuntu (like getting Skype to work), but it's been fun to learn. Some things (like getting the webcam to work), I didn't figure out until now and I'm still wasting time trying to fix it.

Since I switched to Ubuntu, I kept on looking to other distributions, too, but I always returned to Ubuntu:

  • Xubuntu - I like it (especially because it's simple UI), but i find it limited (e.g. mousepad vs. gedit) and buggy (on my Dell Inspiron laptop it doesn't allow dual-displays, on my Maguay office PC is allows 800x600 pixels, etc).
  • ArchLinux - didn't finish installing it: I'm a techie user and I used more or less many OSs (including CP/M, MSDOS 5, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, QNX, etc), but I never liked doing more task that are required (these days, this means typing long cryptic commands that are hard to figure out or reproduce unless you use them daily or you have a wiki page in front of you)
  • LinuxMint - I liked it a lot especially because the launch menu (Ubuntu System Panel), but except for that, it felt too close to Ubuntu to make the switch. Instead I installed its launch menu in Ubuntu.
  • openSuse - nice but less friendly than Ubuntu. It also has a nice launch menu which looked cool the first time I tested it, but last week I checked it again and it felt just annoying (just like Vista and KDE4's menu). Too many clicks to open an application.
  • OpenSolaris - No, no, no. I don't have that much RAM to throw at the OS. I need RAM for my applications. Unfortunatelly, it's like comparing Visual Studio with Eclipse. One is fast and memory efficient, the other is not (but I use Eclipse).