Irregular Verbiage
from the desk of Colin Nicholls

Ubuntu Diary - Day 7

May 2, 2009 15:46 by colin

Web Camera

My Sony Vaio FE790G has a built-in web cam, a "Motion Eye" lens located in the top edge of the LCD screen border. Last time I tried Ubuntu, in 8.10, I couldn't get it recognised, but the truth is I didn't do much research and I probably didn't expect it to work. I know that in Windows XP, I needed to install special Sony-provided driver.

This time around, given that I am trying to get as deep into the Ubuntu/Linux world as possible, I did some googling, and found this very lengthy and comprehensive thread from other users of Sony Vaios with Motion Eye web cams. It seems that was was needed was something called a "gspcav" driver.

I actually got as far as downloading the driver source code and attempting to compile it (failed) before I thought to ask Ubuntu/Linux whether the driver was already installed:

    $  modprobe -l | grep gspca

This command seems to indicate that this is already present on the system. But how to activate the camera? I tried running Gimp and creating a new image from a scanned source, and some intermediate helper application called xsane popped up and allowed me to "scan" from the camera. The results were not encouraging:

That's me holding up my hand in front of the camera, but you can see my Escher print in the background. Do the three copies of the image represent RGB scans? Is this because the xsane program thinks it is talking to a flatbed scanner? I have no idea, but clearly there is a possibility that I can get the webcam to work. More on this as I get around to it, as having a working web camera is not the highest priority right now.


"It just works" almost applies. My traditional default printer is a Minolta/QMS Magicolor 2350 EN Laser printer, networked on the LAN. I turned it on and went to System > Administration > Printing. Click on the New toolbar button, and up comes the New Printer dialog, giving me a list of two choices: "Other" or "Network Printer". When I clicked on Network Printer, the list expanded to show an addition entry: "Minolta-QMS magicolor 2350". The Location host and port parameters were already filled out with and 9100 respectively. Very cool.

I clicked Next and saw briefly "Searching for drivers...", then "Searching for downloadable drivers...", then a new dialog, "Choose Driver". This gave me three options: Select printer from database; Provide PPD file; Search for a printer driver to download. Always the optimist, I selected Select printer from database. The comprehensive manufacturer list contained three possible choices: KONICA MINOLTA; Minolta; and QMS. I tried each of them, and the closest I could get to was Minolta > magicolor 2300 DL. I tried this, and long story short, it didn't work. (I would have been very surprised if it did.) My test page was rendered as a few garbage characters at the top of what could have been a vast number sheets of paper, had I not switched the printer off.

I tried the third option, Search for a printer driver to download. This appeared to be searching the same database as the first option because I could not find a better match from the results. Time to try google to see if I could find a .PPD file for the printer. I can't remember what search terms I used but it can't have been 10 seconds before I got to this gem:

This led me to download 2350lin_ppds.tar.gz, which contained a bunch of language folders, and inside the English folder was KM2350NP.ppd, which allowed me to select the Provide PPD file option. This worked perfectly. I can now print from applications, in duplex too.

This was no harder than searching for printer drivers in Window XP, in some ways easier, particularly in cases where you don't have a CD from the printer manufacturer stuffed with drivers for your convenience.

Categories: Computers
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Know your Yeast Extracts

April 28, 2009 09:42 by colin

Public Service Message:

The one on the right comes from the UK but can be found in many good grocery stores in California. The contents is a dark brown and has a consistency of soft honey. They get points for the cool jar but I reserve the right to deduct the points for fooling people into thinking that it actually contains real Marmite.

The one on the left comes from New Zealand, and can't be found anywhere except there. The contents is as dark brown as you can get without being described as "black", and has the consistency of used axle grease, or some kind of ointment. It is the real stuff.

Ideally it should be stored in a tin in the garage and applied to toast with the back side of a putty knife. 

Categories: Miscellaneous
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Ubuntu Diary - Day 3

April 28, 2009 01:33 by colin

I plugged my camera into a spare USB port, and waited. It just works... Ubuntu recognised the attached storage and prompted me for an application. I chose F-Spot Photo Manager because it seemed like the right thing to do, and successfully copied the images to the filesystem. That is a complete success, in my book, except for the following issues:

  • I'd created a folder ~/pictures/camera but for some reason I could not copy the images from the camera to that location. I ended up putting them in ~/pictures instead, and then moving them manually later.
  • By default Ubuntu apparently created a directory called ~/Photos for me but I swear I don't remember seeing it before. Did F-Spot do this, or am I just blind? [Update: The directory was created last night, so I expect F-Spot did it, or perhaps Ubuntu did after it recognised the camera.]
  • I couldn't figure out how to move the images from the camera (thus relieving me of the need to delete them from the camera in a separate operation).
(The camera is a FujiFilm FinePix 602z. The laptop is a Sony Vaio FE790G.)
Categories: Computers | Photography
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Ubuntu Diary - Day 2

April 26, 2009 14:45 by colin

I have Windows XP running in a Virtual Box 2.2 virtual machine now. I gave it 950 MB of RAM, very smooth now that the VirutalBox Machine Additions are installed. Seemless Mode is mindblowing the first time you see it - that's where you have Windows XP applictions floating in the Ubuntu desktop with no container window. For now I have it set back to "normal" mode. Both it and the host Ubuntu OS seem to be getting their IP addresses via DHCP, I never had to specify an IP although I had some all ready to assign to them. I suspect that static IPs will be required at some point...

This blog website looked a little weird in Ubuntu until I installed the Microsoft Core TrueType fonts for Linux. I should do something about that at some point, I guess. On the other hand, I'm not ashamed that my heritage is Windows, so for now, it can stay the way it is.

The Flash plugin isn't installed by default but it was very straightforward to install. I just followed the "Click here to install" link and it worked. Quicktime was almost as easy - it seems that there is a plugin registered to Quicktime but it needs some codecs, but again, it prompts you for the installation and after a few minutes, it just works. Great.

Now, I have all my Windows documents, etc, backed up on to our NAS drive, and although Ubuntu found the network resource and let me browse it (it helps to use the same username/password for every device on the LAN), it seems that many Ubuntu/Gnome applications won't load files from network drives. The "Open File" dialog will allow you to go there and select a file, but it doesn't seem to take effect. Two examples: Restoring my Firefox bookmarks from a .JSON  backup - I needed to copy the .json file into my home directory on the local filesystem before it worked. Also, copying some truetype fonts in to the /usr/share/fonts folder: I was running the File Browser as root, but it still wouldn't let me drag and drop from the network drive. I had to copy the ttf files to a local temp path, and drag and drop from there.

Speaking of the Linkstation network drive, the Windows VM could see it, no problem. Again - I'm using the same username/password for the Windows login. I realise as I write this that I haven't verified that Windows applications can read and write files on the Linux filesystem, but if VirtualBox is anything like VMWare's software, I'm sure there is a way to set up a shared folder and mount it in Windows Explorer.

Categories: Computers
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Ubuntu Again

April 25, 2009 18:53 by colin

This post is being written from inside Firefox runing on Ubuntu 9.04.I repartioned the disk into one single EXT4 partition - Windows XP has gone, but the plan is to bring it back via a virtual machine in Virtual Box.

I backed up all my files to our handy network attached storage, a Buffalo LinkStation 250 GB, and I've confirmed that I can access the files from Ubuntu, without any additional configuration. It just scanned the network, it showed up as an icon, and I double-clicked on it and entered my username and password (nothing different about that). It just works. Very cool.

I see the update Manager has just notified me that there are updates. I suppose I should let it have its way with the OS for a bit.

Categories: Computers
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Welcome to BlogEngine.NET 1.5.0

April 1, 2009 23:00 by Admin

If you see this post it means that BlogEngine.NET 1.5.0 is running and the hard part of creating your own blog is done. There is only a few things left to do.

Write Permissions

To be able to log in to the blog and writing posts, you need to enable write permissions on the App_Data folder. If you’re blog is hosted at a hosting provider, you can either log into your account’s admin page or call the support. You need write permissions on the App_Data folder because all posts, comments, and blog attachments are saved as XML files and placed in the App_Data folder. 

If you wish to use a database to to store your blog data, we still encourage you to enable this write access for an images you may wish to store for your blog posts.  If you are interested in using Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, VistaDB, or other databases, please see the BlogEngine wiki to get started.


When you've got write permissions to the App_Data folder, you need to change the username and password. Find the sign-in link located either at the bottom or top of the page depending on your current theme and click it. Now enter "admin" in both the username and password fields and click the button. You will now see an admin menu appear. It has a link to the "Users" admin page. From there you can change the username and password.  Passwords are hashed by default so if you lose your password, please see the BlogEngine wiki for information on recovery.

Configuration and Profile

Now that you have your blog secured, take a look through the settings and give your new blog a title.  BlogEngine.NET 1.4 is set up to take full advantage of of many semantic formats and technologies such as FOAF, SIOC and APML. It means that the content stored in your BlogEngine.NET installation will be fully portable and auto-discoverable.  Be sure to fill in your author profile to take better advantage of this.

Themes and Widgets

One last thing to consider is customizing the look of your blog.  We have a few themes available right out of the box including two fully setup to use our new widget framework.  The widget framework allows drop and drag placement on your side bar as well as editing and configuration right in the widget while you are logged in.  Be sure to check out our home page for more theme choices and downloadable widgets to add to your blog.

On the web

You can find BlogEngine.NET on the official website. Here you'll find tutorials, documentation, tips and tricks and much more. The ongoing development of BlogEngine.NET can be followed at CodePlex where the daily builds will be published for anyone to download.

Good luck and happy writing.

The BlogEngine.NET team

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Dollhouse (TV Series on Fox)

March 8, 2009 15:54 by colin

So now we've seen 4 episodes of Joss Whedon*'s new show, Whorehouse Dollhouse, and although I've read that early episodes were heavily influenced by the network, and that "after episode 5 things get more Whedon-y", I have my doubts.

It's no secret (in fact, it is the advertised premise of the show) that the Dollhouse is some kind of secret corporation where "actives" with no memories or personalities of their own, and no names but monikers of Alpha, Echo, Sierra, and Victor, are programmed for various escort services elite assignments with finely-tuned composite skill sets made up of the best parts of other, real-world experts. They go out, do the job, and then come back to base to be "wiped" of their experiences. And their services are very expensive. 

The show is a lot like Joe 90 combined with Make Me a Supermodel.

So far, when they are not being configured as a "date for hire", the Actives are out doing things that, well, surely could be done equally well (and more cost-effectively) by a real-world professional? (To come to think of it, there may well be companies that specialise in the date-for-hire thing as well.)

There's something wrong when the only people still writing about this show after 4 episodes are discussing ways it could be rebooted into something more interesting. I have my own ideas... perhaps everyone in the Dollhouse universe is an Active? There are no real-world people except those hidden way in the corporate headquarters?

Another thought: Wouldn't it be better if, instead of being wiped, the various personalities were backed up, and could be restored later (complete with memories of the assignments) in order to re-examine each assignment in a search for clues about the larger story arc. (Because you know there is one. It is Joss, after all.) Actually there is some clue that I might be close to the truth on this one, although given that it is purely the visual+sound effect of the wiping process, I could also be wrong.

On the other hand, there may be some future for this show as a kind of drinking game: A shot every time Echo (Eliza Dushku) gets her kit off, or otherwise mentions her breasts.

So, my one-sentence review has to be: Joss, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

* Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Serenity, and Firefly fame, say no more.

Categories: Reviews
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February 21, 2009 12:42 by colin

Our cherry trees are insisting that it is Spring.

Categories: Gallery | Photography
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Can you hear me now?

February 15, 2009 15:42 by colin

If you're reading this, it means the following:

  • upgrade to BlogEngine 1.4.5 was successful;
  • I got off my ass and did something about my stagnant blog.

The visual re-design I wanted to do hasn't happened yet, but it was originally inspired by the fact that this theme, the one you're looking at, didn't work with BlogEngine 1.4.5. Yet here we are.

I wish I could say I solved the problem, but I didn't do nothin'. It just worked when I tried again out of desperation this afternoon. So, maybe the re-design can wait. Of course, I still have to get this all uploaded.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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Now in Italian

November 21, 2008 12:43 by colin

My article on replacing the internal memory backup battery on the Korg M1 synthesizer has been translated into Italian and reposted on an excellent site called NonSoloSynth:

Sostituire la batteria interna di Korg M1


The original post can be found here: Replacing the Korg M1's internal battery

Categories: Music Studio Diary
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