Month: April 2013

Amor de Mama

Via the aptly-named TRIBUTOaZAPPA, Motherly Love en español. If I'm reading it right, the group performing it is called Los Huespedes Felices.

Apparently there's a whole series of Spanish Zappa tribute albums at My Spanish is embarrassingly bad for someone who's spent his whole life in Arizona, so I don't know how easy they are to come by in los estados unidos (in fact my Spanish is so bad I had to look that up; I almost put "estadios unidad"), but I think I might have to look into it later.

Trying to Fix OpenSUSE

After spending my Saturday banging my head against the wall trying to get my OpenSUSE installation working again, I spent my Sunday just reinstalling the damn thing -- aware the whole time that the result might be exactly the same thing happening next time I run an update.

I went to the effort to get OpenSUSE up and running again because I quite like it. All that shit I griped about yesterday on how difficult it is to find configuration options in Mint? Simply not the case in OpenSUSE. It's true that OpenSUSE has two separate control panels too, like Cinnamon does, and that one is for interface configuration and the other is for system configuration -- but both of them are a whole lot more comprehensive than what Cinnamon's got, and it's way easier to find what you're looking for. And OpenSUSE's package management is simply the best I've ever seen -- it doesn't have quite as comprehensive a selection as Debian/Ubuntu/Mint/et al, but it's pretty close, and -- perhaps most importantly of all -- it doesn't just give you an error when there's a dependency issue, it gives you a list of choices on what to do about it.

It's also got smooth-as-hell one-click package installation, though in Mint's defense, it supports that now too and I had a breeze setting up RSSOwl (the only program I've set up in Mint that wasn't in the default repos, and which was a monumental fucking hassle setting up in OpenSUSE).

Anyhow, I got OpenSUSE back up and running. Eventually. The first problem was that when I burned the 12.3 disc and tried to boot it, I got my old friend the frozen "Select CD-ROM Boot Type" prompt.

You know what's a bad sign? When you plug an error message into a a search engine and the third match is your own fucking blog. On the plus side, Thad From Four and a Half Months Ago told me how I got around this the last time: I stopped fucking around with the install DVD and tried the LiveDVD instead.

Then I made a mistake -- but it turned out not to matter. I forgot to set NoScript to allow JS on the 12.3 download page. And so I couldn't see any downloads except the main installer. The LiveDVD's right on the page, and so's the Rescue CD, but I couldn't see the damn things.

I poked through the Wiki and wound up stumbling onto the KDE Reloaded LiveDVD instead. Now, on the plus side, contrary to the "11.3" number and "Last Modified 10-Aug-2010" note on that page, the LiveDVD is current as of January of this year. On the minus side, it's kind of a damn mess, it leaves you with a weird hybrid of 12.1, 12.2, and Factory repos, and, well, it wouldn't have been my first choice if I'd been a little more awake and alert and noticed the damn NoScript notification.

But I found out later that the LiveDVD and the Rescue DVD both lock up too, so I would have wound up trying the KDE Remix eventually anyway. And it did work, sort of. And I found out some good things and bad things about restoring a broken OpenSUSE installation.

The good part: if you've got /home on a separate partition, OpenSUSE will use it without formatting it; all your settings will be preserved. I backed it up just to be safe, but I didn't need to; it was completely untouched.

The bad part: I found out the hard way that YAST's backup feature doesn't back up your repo list, which makes it pretty much goddamn worthless if you have a lot of software from third-party repos. Which, y'know, is the only damn reason I backed up my packages in the first place. Reinstalling packages from the default repos is time-consuming, but it's trivial. What I was worried about was going through the hassle of installing stuff like that outdated version of xulrunner that I need to get RSSOwl to run. So I guess I know for next time that I need to back up my list of repos separately.

Anyway, I got OpenSUSE working for a day or so.

And then the first time I ran mplayer X dumped me to a console and now it won't restart.

So I'm sorta back where I started, except getting an entirely different set of errors, which near as I can tell aren't related to any nVidia driver conflict like last time.

I like OpenSUSE, but I may be fucking done with it. I would really rather not reinstall it again.

I don't know for sure where I'm going from here. But I do know I'm going to start a KDE install on Mint.

Minty Fresh

I've been giving Linux Mint a shot.

Now, OpenSUSE is still my primary distro (for now -- more on that in a minute), but I've kept my old Kubuntu drive onhand, originally because I've got OpenSUSE on a 128GB SSD and could use another drive with some extra storage, but over time I also learned how useful it is to have a second Linux distribution installed for those times OpenSUSE craps out. (More on that in a minute.)

So when I swapped in a new drive, I put Mint on it, as that's a rapidly growing distro and the one a lot of disgruntled users seem to be checking out since the releases of Unity and GNOME 3.

My first reaction is that the default installation looks pretty and clean. 'Cept maybe the menu, which is too busy.

And my next reaction is that there's a pretty good complement of programs installed...up until I open the terminal and find that vim is not included. Yes, I realize it only takes a minute to install, but I'm one of those guys who is immediately suspicious of any distro that doesn't come with vim out of the box.

My next reaction is my usual complaint about GNOME: it's just not configurable enough, and the various configuration options are spread across too many different places.

You can choose themes in five separate categories -- Cinnamon Themes, Window Themes, Cursor Themes, Icon Themes, and GTK+ themes -- and you can mix and match among those, which is good. But I don't see anything as simple as a color chooser. Your colors are determined by your themes. Want your panel to have a widget style like Nightlife but a blue highlight on the active program like in Blanka Teal? Tough; can't be done. Want to use Adwaita for the window theme but not want the active titlebar to be the same fucking color as inactive title bars? Can't do that either; if you're going to want a colored titlebar you're going to have to go with one of the more oldschool/minimalist window styles like Atlanta or Metabox. (Or hunt for themes online, a thing which I don't really ever do because I find them almost uniformly to be worse than the ones bundled with the DE.) For extra kicks, you can combine the Mint-X GTK+ theme with the Atlanta, Bright, Metabox, or Simple window themes and get a color scheme where the active window title text is white and inactive windows' title text is black.

Oh, and there's also a "keybinding theme" under themes, which is bullshit because keybindings are not fucking themes. This unfortunately seems to be a trend in Mint/Cinnamon -- cramming shit sideways into categories it doesn't really belong in because the designers apparently can't figure out where else to put it. Want to make Mint stop playing a sound at startup? It's under Login Window -> Accessibility. Yes I had to fucking look it up.

Special Bonus: Login Window is one of many settings that does not appear under either the Cinnamon Settings or System Settings panel. Why the fuck are there two different control panels that between them still don't have an exhaustive list of configuration options? Who the fuck knows. That's rhetorical, by the way; I'm sure if I asked some GNOME developer would be happy to point to the usability study that demonstrates this is an awesome fucking idea and anyone who complains about it is objectively wrong and just hates change.

Though speaking of hating change, if you want your taskbar to look exactly like Windows 98-XP's, then Mint is the distro for you. Menu in the lower left, Show Desktop button, QuickLaunch bar, list of open programs, system tray.

Prefer to move it to the top, or change it to a GNOME 2-style top-and-bottom split? Totally doable.

Want to stick it on the left- or righthand side of your screen because oh, I don't know, you bought your computer monitor sometime in the last five fucking years and it has a 16:9 or 16:10 screen ratio? Too fucking bad; you're going to have to find a third-party panel if you want some of that action.

And I think that's my biggest gripe about Cinnamon: the stated goal of the project is to make GNOME 3 behave like GNOME 2. Which is fine if you liked GNOME 2, I guess, but it's ultimately subject to the same sort of design philosophy that users shouldn't have too many choices in how their computers look, feel, and behave (and many of the choices they do have should be hidden in bizarre, inexplicable, inconsistent places).

That's why I'm still a KDE guy -- and it's also why I was still a KDE3 guy for years after the release of KDE4. (4 still hasn't caught up to 3 in some obvious and fundamental ways -- really simple shit like being able to drag a launcher from the menu to the panel. And I'll hand that much to Cinammon: it does that, which puts it ahead of KDE in at least one respect.)

And while I was easily able to find a widget to switch between workspaces, it only has 2 by default, and I can't find anywhere to change it to 4. Maybe it's in there somewhere, or maybe it's not because of Cinnamon's GNOME 3 underpinnings -- I remember that GNOME 3 has an arbitrary number of workspaces, starts with one and adds more as you drag programs to them.

I did see an interface where I could drag a window to another desktop -- repeatedly and accidentally, until I turned off the hot corner. Have I mentioned yet that I fucking hate hot corners? I've got this thing about interface elements that appear by accident, when I'm trying to do something else.

I could probably set up a hotkey to bring up that screen without using a hot corner, and I expect it'd be useful -- and maybe give me some clues on how to have more than 2 desktops. I'll look into it. But binding it to a keypress is not in the same control panel as setting it to a hot corner, and I'm going to have to look up where to find it.

Oh and also the package manager is both slow and hideous.

Anyhow, well, I've been spending rather a lot of time with Mint, mostly because I broke OpenSUSE. It started with an nVidia driver update, but after I reinstalled my kernel it turned into a kernel/init/systemd problem. It's been frustrating as fuck and ate up pretty much my entire weekend. Eventually I just decided to reinstall outright -- and I'll tell that story tomorrow.

Whatever happens, I'll keep Mint around as a backup boot. But the way it is, I couldn't use it as my primary OS -- not without installing KDE on it, at least.

Go Cry on Somebody Else's Shoulder Cover

I suppose this is one of those songs where I should start with a disclaimer that I'm not posting it for any kind of personal reason; I remain a happy newlywed. I just think it's a fun song -- a wonderful homage to 1950's love ballad, with equally wonderful lyrics that subvert the genre. But yes it was on a very long list of "Zappa Songs I Should Not Put On My Wedding Playlist". Hell, I think the entirety of Freak Out! fits that description.

And if that's not enough, this is a great damn cover, by one George Possley. I couldn't find a good copy of Frank and the Mothers performing it themselves (aside from actual album rips, which, again, I prefer not to repost), but it's just as well, because I found this.

For Future Reference

For the next time I get locked out of X after an nVidia upgrade:

The OpenSUSE package for nVidia drivers for a GTX570 is x11-video-nvidiaG03.

The OpenSUSE package for the nVidia kernel module for a GTX570 is nvidia-gfxg03-kmp-default.

History of the Doctor

What we know for sure about the Doctor's origins -- and I'm going to go ahead and put this in chronological order for his timeline, though of course it's instructive to look at the order in which these facts were revealed on the show, too:

He's a Time Lord from Gallifrey. He has two hearts, and when he dies he regenerates into a new form. He's currently in his eleventh incarnation of thirteen.

He and the Master went to school together. When they were children they looked into the Total Perspective Vortex; the Master went mad and the Doctor ran away.

The Doctor and the Master chose their own names.

The Doctor stole the TARDIS and fled Gallifrey. Until he finally gives himself up in The War Games, he is a wanted man, both for the theft and for violating the Time Lord equivalent of Star Trek's Prime Directive and constantly interfering in affairs of the universe instead of just standing by and watching.

When we first meet the Doctor, he's parked his TARDIS in a scrapyard in 1963 London. He's an old man traveling with an apparently teenage girl who goes by the name of Susan Foreman and calls him Grandfather. (We reasonably assume that he is in fact her biological grandfather, though this is never stated unambiguously.)

The reason he's in London in 1963? He's got a powerful Time Lord artifact called the Hand of Omega -- a device which is capable of destroying planets across time and space -- and seeks to hide it.

I don't know if that's an exhaustive list, but those are the key points of what we know about the story before the beginning of the first episode, off the top of my head.

Other than that, there are hints, and things expressly stated as the intentions of the writers (and, in some cases, novelized), but nothing really concrete on the show itself.

First, there's the nature of the Hand of Omega. It's the device that Omega used to perfect time travel by collapsing a star for fuel. Omega was blasted into the antimatter universe, and his partner Rassilon became the first Time Lord.

The Doctor later says of the Hand of Omega, "And didn't we have trouble with the prototype?" Pressed by Ace, he corrects himself and says "They." Script editor Andrew Cartmel has stated explicitly that his intent was to imply that the Doctor himself was a third founding Time Lord, alongside Rassilon and Omega (and there are further seeds to this end in Silver Nemesis, which I've never actually seen), but this plot never reached fruition.

Not on the show, anyway. There's a novel called Lungbarrow which lays the whole thing out; I haven't read it but it sounds immensely complicated, implying that the Doctor is a reincarnation of the Other, retaining his memories through the Time Lords' technological method of asexual reproduction, the Looms. It all sounds frankly quite complicated and is absolutely not the sort of thing I would ever expect to see on the TV show.

But the idea of the Doctor as the Other? Still a possibility. Especially since I expect we'll be seeing Omega again soon.

The Omega symbol's been cropping up on the show for several years now. The clerics who kept River as their prisoner in Time of the Angels had it on their uniforms. It cropped up again in A Good Man Goes to War.

Now, obviously that shit's there for a reason. It's not just there because some costume and set designers think omegas look cool. And while certainly there's a religious connection, this is Doctor Who; there's no way they threw it in just as a Revelation reference.

So I'm comfortable in assuming Omega is going to figure into the coming story arc somewhere. If Omega himself doesn't put in an appearance, then his legacy's going to be relevant, and I bet we'll be hearing about the Hand of Omega again.

Last night I ran across the possibility that the Doctor's name was a mathematical formula. What if the secret of time travel itself is encoded in his name?

Again, that would make it tough for him to be one of the three founding Time Lords (short of a paradox where he travels back in time and becomes one of them) -- but I can easily imagine that Time Lords might name their children after founding principles of their society. Like naming a child after a religious figure or a king or a lord.

It would also explain why the Doctor had to change his name before going out into the wide universe -- if his name holds the secret to time travel, well, that wouldn't be a secret among the Time Lords, it would be common knowledge. But sharing it with somebody outside Time Lord society would be a big no-no.

We've seen, of course, over the series, that there are other races and cultures capable of time travel -- but theirs is always rudimentary, limited in some fashion. Dangerous and unpredictable (moreso than the Doctor's TARDIS). The Doctor, as last of the Time Lords, guards his TARDIS and its secrets closely -- and maybe that includes keeping his name a secret.

It's an elegant theory and I like it -- but it creates its own problem: barring a copout where his name is never actually spoken onscreen, he still needs to have a name. And, if this theory is correct, it needs to be a name that's not just satisfying to the ear but also sounds like plausible enough technobabble that the audience will buy that it's some fundamental secret of time travel. And you've only got a short space to work with. (My full name is nine syllables. And it's pretty long.)

Alternately, maybe it's something far more prosaic. Or maybe Moffat's got something much more interesting in mind. Guess we'll find out in three weeks.

Purple Lagoon

SNL, 1976, featuring John Belushi as the Samurai Baker. Uploaded by dai2008002iad.