Slackware sound mess
#345 Henry, Saturday, 04 June 2016 3:53 PM (Category: Linux)
(Tags: linux sound pulseaudio)

I had got myself into a big mess with Slackware and sound.

In January 2016, Slackware was forced to work with PulseAudio. I had been very grateful for years that Slackware had avoided working with PulseAudio and systemd. Anything involving Lennart Poettering is anathema. When I first experimented with PulseAudio years ago, it was awful and did not work with any of my gear. I was fine with ALSA, it worked on everything I had, I had no problems with it at all. And don't get me started on systemd. Its claim to fame seems to be that it speeds up bootup speeds. That's just fine and dandy, but I boot my systems several times a year, if that, so that's not a big enticement. What is worse for me is creeping featurism. There are a number of things I have read about systemd that make me want to avoid it. So far, Slackware has.

PulseAudio was made a dependency of bluez, the Bluetooth controller, and Slackware was forced to follow. In January, the first changes came down that included PulseAudio, and that started months of serious annoyances.

Since then, I keep thinking about one of my sayings about every app being upgraded until it is useless for its original purpose. I suspect that Slackware is going to go down this path too. Perhaps Linux in general. If it does, I will consider what I will do. I think Apple is going in directions I don't like either. Not sure where I will go. Perhaps I'll try BSD?

But in the meantime, I did my best to get along with PulseAudio. I followed instructions and had sound working on my main desktop with some things and not others. mplayer would work (and therefore aTunes would work), xmms would work, Firefox would work, but Chrome would not. That was good enough, and I left it at that.

Slackware is getting ready for the big jump to release 14.2. Big changes keep coming down the pipeline. I think when it's released, I'll get the DVDs and then do a clean install. It's okay to do incremental upgrades on a regular basis, but eventually you get too much cruft and you need to do a clean install. I think I'm at that stage.

Last week, a new version of Firefox came down, and it really irritated me. It would not play Youtube videos. No sound, no video. I could watch YouTube videos in Chrome but without sound, so I was stuck YouTube-less. I left it to the weekend to investigate.

A few days ago, another big Slackware update came down and things went bad. No sound anywhere.

So I was really stuck. I think much of the problem is cruft. Configuration cruft in Firefox and installation cruft in Slackware.

The weekend came and I made a determined effort to get things working again.

I started with Firefox.

My Firefox configuration is quite old. That was probably what was preventing me from playing YouTube. So first step there was to delete all the .mozilla configuration and start up Firefox as if new. I did that, making one mistake - I forgot to export my bookmarks first.

I set up Firefox again, configuring it to do things my way. I can recreate my bookmarks later. I don't use bookmarks much anyway, so it's no big loss. And once I did this, I could play YouTube videos again, but still without sound. That fixes the Firefox issue, and the sound issue is with Slackware, so I left Firefox and moved to the Slackware configuration.

I spent a few hours researching this online, reading documentation, experimenting, rebooting. I also went back to the original upgrade notes for Slackware in January when PulseAudio was first introduced.

In the end, I got sound working everywhere, with all my applications. I changed three things. I am unsure if all three were necessary, but at the end, I had sound everywhere again.

I tested all my usual sound apps again (mplayer, xmms, aTunes, Firefox, Chrome) and they all worked at extremely high volume.

How to control the volume with PulseAudio? More research and it's with a thing called pavucontrol. I could set the overall volume with that, and then use each application's fine controls to make smaller adjustments.

And after a day of frustration, I have my system working as well as it was back in January before PulseAudio was introduced. Six months of frustration, and a wasted day to cope with shit forced on me. This is why people move to Apple. Apple has a mediocre Unix at the core, but the consumer stuff just works (generally speaking). The more I have to fight this stuff, the less inclined I am to keep fighting with it and the more inclined I am to take the easy way out.

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Let's Encrypt is off beta
#344 Henry, Friday, 15 April 2016 9:52 AM (Category: Web Development)
(Tags: https encryption)

I've been following Let's Encrypt since last year. They provide certificates for encrypting websites so they use https instead of plain http. With automated renewals. And it's free.

I've been planning to do this for some time. I have a few months window before the next set of visitors arrive, so I will start working with it this weekend and attempt to get it all set up.

My Linodes are in a bit of a mess right now. I have two, not one. I need to finalise the new one, move the last bits from the old to the new, and then switch everything to https.

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#343 Henry, Thursday, 14 April 2016 3:07 PM (Category: Apple)
(Tags: fruitjuice battery macbook)

Chris suggested that I should look at the Mac app FruitJuice as a way of monitoring the battery usage on my MacBook to get a better idea of what is happening when I use the timer on it.

First of all, it's $9.99. That made me squirm. Then I remembered all those early years when software cost $40 to $250, and realised how my perceptions have changed when I find a $10 app feels like too much money. I did my reading, and it seemed interesting enough, so I paid my money and installed in on my MacBook Air. I didn't want to put it on the MacBook yet, I wanted to get a feel for it.

Bought it in the Mac App Store, and got it installed. Ran it, and set it to run at login time. First thing it did was tell me it wanted to do a Maintenance Run. Told me to plug the charger in and get it up to 100%. I did that. Then it told me to take the charger off, and run the Mac till the battery went below 20%. I did that. Took a few hours. Then it was calibrated and it knew what it was doing.

Now, whenever I use my MacBook Air, the FruitJuice app tells me how much time I need to spend on battery power each day. And right now, it tells me to spend one hour and five minutes on battery. This is good information. And it gives me plenty of other info about the state of the battery and my pattern of usage. Neat. I suppose it's worth the $10. If it keeps my battery running for longer before I need to replace it, and optimises the lifespan, then it is worth it.

So with all this info and practice done, it was time to put FruitJuice on my MacBook that is driving the Drobo and BackBlaze, the MacBook that started this whole exercise.

Oh. Rats. That MacBook is locked in at Lion, and FruitJuice will not install. OS is too old. So much for that.

But it's still useful on the two MacBook Airs which are both on the current OS.

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MacBook on timer
#342 Henry, Thursday, 14 April 2016 3:02 PM (Category: Apple)
(Tags: macbook drobo backblaze)

The MacBook is going very well at home. There have been no problems at all, the Drobo remains accessible and BackBlaze is near the end of the initial backup. I am really happy. I have set up a first cron job on my Linux desktop to backup essential files to the MacBook once a day, so they can make their way up to BackBlaze.

I read one suggestion about putting it on a timer to exercise the battery. I bought one of these Woods Timers and installed it.

Woods Timer

It works just fine. It turns power off to the MacBook for an hour at 4am and 4pm so it runs off the battery. That's been in place a couple of days now, and there have been no problems. I will check it on the weekend to see how low the battery gets after an hour without power, and then I might tweak it. Right now I am flying blind.

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Apple Maps disaster
#341 Henry, Wednesday, 13 April 2016 11:24 AM (Category: Apple)
(Tags: maps gps)

Last Thursday, I had occasion to use Apple Maps on my iPhone. Anne was having Book Club at our house, and I had been asked out by one of the other Book Widowers. That was a better offer than hiding in the computer room all night, so I agreed. Might be some beer in it.

I had been to their house before, but decided to use Maps on my iPhone to get there straight from work. I brought the name up in Contacts, tapped on the address and Apple Maps popped up. I normally don't use Apple Maps, I've had a few small problems in the past, but it's been a couple of years and Apple keep improving it, so I gave it another go.

I'm driving and listening to the instructions. And it takes me a strange way. But I think, I've seen GPS apps do this before, they take you way up here and then you drop down here, all on the freeways, and it looks like a strange way but it's shorter and faster. I persevered, but started getting nervous. By the time I realised something was seriously wrong, I was trapped on the freeway with no exits, pushed through the midtown tunnel, and, oh no, it's a toll tunnel and Anne's car has the EZPass device and so I went through the tunnel and got the toll plus the extra fee for not having EZPAss, it took me into Portsmouth and stopped me on Court Street and announced we were there. Somehow, Las Ollas Court in Chesapeake turned into Court Street in Portsmouth. I cursed. Not going to use Apple Maps again. So I fired up Google Maps and shit damn and blast, I had to go back through the tunnel and do the non-EZPass thing again and get a double bill in the mail. Anyway, Google Maps took me directly to where I wanted to go. I was only 35 minutes late, and down about $20 in toll fees, and I was not a happy man.

On the other hand, I had a good night out. We went out to a pub with an interesting name and a good selection of beers, but they were having a Trivial Pursuit competition and it was noisy, so we walked in and walked out, and drove to another of George's favourite pubs - Busky's Chill and Grill. It was quiet and almost empty. They had a small selection of local beers, so I stuck to O'Connor IPAs and had a Bubba Burger and we talked and talked and had a great night.

To get home at the end of the night, I thought about where I had to go, thought about Elbow Road closed for renovations, planned the route in my head and drove home without GPS. I think I am going to use my mind for trips that I know, and only use GPS for routes that I do not know. And I am not going to use Apple Maps again.

I can't work out how it happened. It's possible I tapped on the address and it highlighted the Court of Las Ollas Court and my device made assumptions about that. Doesn't matter how I did it, I got burned and won't make that mistake again. I will avoid GPS unless really necessary, and avoid Apple Maps.

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