Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ubuntu And The Ghost of Crimbo's Past

Its that time of year again when I curse Ubuntu. It happens every year, I know its coming but I hope for the best but am left cursing the circle of doom after several hours of madness.

Let me take you back to the start, not the last 3 years of attempts, but just this years. My sister comes around with a pile of CD's that Santa has pre-delivered so that they are already on my niece's iPod on Crimbo morning. Of course I am happy to oblige Santa, especially as the previous years attempts are all but a distant memory...until I begin the process.

It begins painlessly, I insert CD after CD, burn them to the system but I have already made my first mistake. I copy them as FLAC files which the little iPod scoff's at. Of course I assume that my preferred media player will happily convert the files to a playable format as it does with my little Rockboxed Sansa. Yes, you sit there and shake your head at my hubris and watch my dreams burn.

Banshee crashes. In a heartbeat. Hit sync and it disappears from view. Time and time again. To the Ubuntu Software Centre I trot and reinstall Rhythmbox. I launch it and then it begins downloading podcasts from my 38 feeds. I curse myself for leaving it set to check automatically so I go to the settings to change to check manually...but I have it already set to manual download. What madness is this? I close and restart it but it is hell bent on downloading podcasts stretching back to 2011.

Once that hurdle is dealt with I proceed to try and sync the iPod. Nadda. Nothing. Zip. Crash. Grumble

Back to the Ubuntu Software Centre and I download my next best hope, gtkpod iPod Manager. It installs. I launch it. Select the appropriate iPod model and watch as it begins to write to the drive. So I wait. And wait. And wait. The writing to the drive progress bar has not moved for over 2 hours. I swallow my pride and must concede to the inevitable.

In the back of a cupboard there lies a laptop. An old Sony Vaio and on it lies a partition that holds Windows XP. I boot it up...and go make a brew as it loads. The barrage of applications demanding to be update begins a process that lasts for a couple of hours. Finally I copy over the tunes but itunes can not see them. "Oh FLAC it", I proclaim rather loudly, or something to that effect. Back to the Ubuntu Software Centre and now I install Sound Converter which works flawlessly, things are starting to look brighter.

Now the tunes can be seen by the cupertino media handler but what a little nightmare it is to use! If not for my sisters Apple ID half of it seems to be greyed out, though by now all I want to do is take this one for the team and return to friendly shores. Needless to say after an update and a sync the iPod is filled with Santa's jingles, though my crimbo spirit has taken a serious knock.

So be warned fellow Ubuntu users, be very wary of kin bearing gifts.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Logitech Touchpad 'Just Works' With Ubuntu

I had been hearing various positions in the debate about the move towards using touchpads with desktop computers instead of the usual mouse. I have never liked using mice, since 2000 I have always used trackballs. This mainly being born from me working in the merchant navy at the time and having a mouse sliding back and fourth was counter-productive. My experience with touchpads on laptops have been hit and miss too, some have been excellent, others unusable and requiring me to bring a mouse along everywhere. So I have decided to take the plunge and get my hands on the Logitech Wireless Touchpad.

Logitech Toucpad with packaging and 15cm/6in ruler

The packaging is surprising small, but the touchpad is also a relatively nice size. Yes, it is weird to use at first, but after two weeks I now find it nicer to use then my trackball. Of course all the literature to go with it only says that Windows is supported but I am happy to report that it worked out of the box with Ubuntu 12.04 and 12.10. While the computer was off I plugged the "Unifying receiver" into a free USB port, turned on and the touchpad worked straight away. It is powered by two AA batteries which come supplied and should last a few months, but using my rechargeable batteries should mean there should be no issue with replacements.

Side view of the Logitech Touchpad

The first time you touch it there is no response, I am guessing it is in hibernation mode, but after a moment it starts to react and follow your gestures. I have read complaints about the 'touch area' not being better defined when you move in or our of it, but there are notches in the corner areas and I do not find myself floundering out of bounds. My only real complaint for the ergonomics is using the right click button. The bottom of the touchpad has two very large buttons of equal size, being right-handed using the left button with your thumb is no trouble, but it takes a little while to get used to using the right button.

'Unifying receiver' in the front USB port

Multi-touch works fine too, but since I have not used multi-touch much before all this is new to me so each new feature I learn is a bit of fun. The two-fingered scrolling is great for browsing the web and the three-finger scrolling acts like 'page up' and 'page down'. For Windows users there is a download available from Logitech to let you change the multi-touch settings, but there is no easy way to do this yet in Ubuntu. However knowing the Ubuntu community I would expect something to land in the Ubuntu Software Centre sooner rather than later.

Overall I am really enjoying this and can say it has improved my desktop user experience.

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Saturday, 25 August 2012

EBC Brake Pads Installed on the Uly

EBC Front Brake Pads for Buell UlyssesInstalling Rear Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesInstalling Rear Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesInstalling Rear Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesInstalling Rear Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesInstalling Front Brake Pads on Buell Ulysses
Installing Front Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesInstalling Front Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesInstalling Front Brake Pads on Buell UlyssesEBC Rear Brake Pads for Buell UlyssesEBC Brake Pads for Buell Ulysses

EBC Brake Pads, a set on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
I have tried the OEM brake pads, and most recently 'Braking' brand pads. But have heard good things about the EBC pads, so going to see how it works out.

Got them directly from

Front: FA345HH
Rear: FA140HH
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Thursday, 9 August 2012

Photos: Buell Ulysses K&N Filter Upgrade

K&N Filter and Recharger KitBuell Ulysses OEM FilterBuell Ulysses with K&N FilterBuell Ulysses with K&N FilterBuell Ulysses Air Cleaner CoverBuell Ulysses Intake Cover
K&N Filter Upgrade, a set on Flickr.
The final stage of the exhaust upgrade is complete. The K&N filter arrived today and has now been fitted. Full blog post and review to follow once I get some miles done with the new set-up

Via Flickr:
Here I have replaced the OEM filter with the K&N Filter for the Buell Ulysses XB12XT. This should never need replacing and also allow the engine to breathe better in combination with the recent exhaust upgrade.
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Friday, 3 August 2012

Exhaust Valve Emulator Fitted

Exhaust Valve EmulatorExhaust Valve EmulatorExhaust Valve Emulator FittingExhaust Valve Emulator FittingExhaust Value Emulator InstalledInteractive Exhaust Assembly
Exhaust Valve Emulator, a set on Flickr.
Some pics showing the installation of an "Exhaust Valve Emulator" on my Buell Ulysses XB12XT

Full review to follow!

Via Flickr:
These few pictures show the installation of the exhaust valve emulator on the Buell Ulysses XB12XT. This is done when the interactive cable assembly has been removed from the bike, usually since it is no longer required with aftermarket exhausts. Removing the assembly and not fitting the emulator causes error codes to be displayed on the dash.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Torque Hammer Photos

Buell Ulyssus XB12XT With Torque Hammer ExhaustBuell Ulysses XB12XT With Exhaust RemovedTorque Hammer BoxedTorque Hammer Parts All Wrapped UpParts That Come With The Torque HammerTorque Hammer Pre-Installation
Hanger For The Torque HammerBuell Ulyssus XB12XT With Torque Hammer ExhaustBuell Ulyssus XB12XT With Torque Hammer ExhaustBuell Ulyssus XB12XT With Torque Hammer ExhaustBuell Ulyssus XB12XT With Torque Hammer ExhaustBuell Ulyssus XB12XT With Torque Hammer Exhaust
Torque Hammer, a set on Flickr.
Some photos from my installation of the Torque Hammer exhaust onto the Buell Ulysses XB12XT.

Full review to follow.

Via Flickr:
Buell Ulysses XB12XT with Torque Hammer exhaust fitted.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 and the Huawei E586. Just Works.

Living out in the Irish countryside you will find fancy things like high-speed broadband to be the preserve of the city and town folk. To make up the gap USB broadband dongles are very popular and while they are capable of speeds of 21Mbps you should realistically be expecting rates closer to 1Mbps.  I have used a Huawei E160G for the last 3 years in conjunction with an Edimax 3G-6200n router to provide my home with at least some modern day trappings like WiFi, even if the speeds are not great. So when offered me the Huawei E586 Mi-Fi device in return for a renewed contract I said "sure".

Also comes in black.
One downside of the previous E160G dongle was that it was managed via pre-installed software on the device, so messages from my broadband provider would only go to the desktop software. Of course that software never worked in Ubuntu so if the modem ever stopped working and I phoned them up I would often be asked "didn't you get the notification?"Another downside was sharing the internet with the dongle. You obviously have to plug it into whatever device you want to use the internet with, thus limiting it to one device at a time. Except for my Cr-48 which the dongle does not work with. You must physically place the SIM into the Cr-48. Hence the purchase of the Edimax router which has worked flawlessly over the last few years.

This is what comes in the box
Now we have some new technology appearing on the scene in the form of MiFi. Basically they look like early USB broadband dongles, like my original Huawei E220, except they are mini WiFi routers. You plug in, turn on and then connect your device wirelessly to the MiFi modem. One advantage is that you can connect up to 5 devices at the same time and it really is as simple as plugging in and then inputting the password for the modem on your device. It also works flawlessly with Ubuntu 12.04. Thanks to the small size and portability you are able to make sure the modem is left where it receives the best reception, as clearly indicated on the modems screen. Yet another advantage is that you do not need to leave this plugged in as it has its own internal battery. This allows you to unplug the modem, drop into into your bag and have internet connectivity wherever you go.  With up to 8 hours of battery life this should be as good as most laptops or tablets and is especially handy if you have a smartphone or tablet with limited data plans.

A quick look at some of the available settings.
Managing the modem is also a snap as like most routers you log in via your web browser. Then from here you can tweak the settings to your delight. Maybe adding stronger passwords, limiting visibility of the device and so on. You can also easily see the number of devices connected to the modem at any one time, though it should support up to five. So far I am really pleased with it and happy to recommend for anyone looking for a simple, out-of-the-box WiFi solution for their home. You do need to make sure that all your devices are WiFi capable, but  even if you have an older PC a quick stop at Amazon can fix that with WiFi dongles starting at £4.54.

I am hoping to try this out on the road in the near future and will be sure to update on how it is fairing up.

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Sunday, 15 April 2012

Auf Wiedersehen, MCN

I have been a weekly buyer of Motorcycle News (MCN) for about 12 years now, probably missing only 10 issues over that whole period. Two weeks ago they brought in a whole new look, basically trying to package a newspaper as a glossy magazine. It does not work. Its a pig's ear of a job. I like buying a newspaper that looks, feels and reads like a newspaper. Sure tweak the content and so on, but why the magazine look and feel?

After Tony Carter took over as editor of Motorcycle Sport & Leisure (MSL) I did not like the direction he took it and did not bother renewing my subscription. Even when I pick it up to have a look at it in the stores I feel it should just be called Motorcycle Sport now, the touring and travel content feeling secondary to other features.

Having quit MSL I did have a worthy alternative to replace it, RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring and Travel, and have been a happy subscriber ever since. I came across it while visiting the US, picked up a copy and loved it. The international rates are also really good, probably much cheaper then any UK alternative. Sure it does not cover the roads I might find myself on regularly, but that is not the point. The articles, content and direction of the magazine is much more suited to me.

Is there any real alternative to MCN now? No. Is it going to bother them? Certainly not. But you never read a motorcycle review feeling like you could believe it. Rather you waited to see what they had to say 2 years later and then the list of defects would be rolled out. And do we ever expect a Triumph doing poorly? Of course not. We also know its all part of the game, they want to keep getting those multi-page exclusives were they get a good look at a new models development. And they should make the most of it while they can because if Ducati is any indication then Triumph is going to need new ownership to keep growing and lose that 'rough around the edges' feel (H-D anyone?).

Maybe others feel the same, maybe they love the fresh new look, while I am the last person is be averse to change but there is a way of doing newspapers and MCN I think might just be doing change for the sake of it.

Peace and keep the rubber side down.

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Precise Pangolin, Gnome Shell and Don't Mention the War

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin is just a matter of weeks away with the launch date of April 26th synced on our various calendar applications, so as long as some nasty 'show stopper' does not bother our rugged pangolin we just have to concern ourselves with the upcoming release parties. I have been running Precise Pangolin on a laptop since the Alpha 1, the first time I have ever jumped into the development cycle so early, and it has been a very smooth ride. This will be mainly due to the fact that there are no huge improvements to be made, anything significant has already been added in the period since the last LTS and now we are just polishing what has survived the last two years of development.

My current Precise desktop with running Gnome Shell and some extensions
Ubuntu's 'elephant in the room' has been the development of the Unity interface, forking away from Gnome's own Gnome Shell. I do not pretend to know or even understand all the reasons as to why Canonical and Gnome went their separate ways, with respect to the interface, but no conversation about Ubuntu is complete without someone mentioning 'the war'.

Do not want to press 'alt' to power off? There is an extension for that
My own first experience with Unity was when they rolled it out and got rid of Ubuntu Netbook Edition (UNE), and I did not enjoy it. The Desktop Edition of Ubuntu ran much smoother compared to Unity and was much easier to tweak, however I was upset with what effectively ended UNE and began the thrust to unify the Ubuntu experience with one familiar look. When Unity was then made default on the desktop, and mutter made way for compiz, everything started to make sense. Unity felt more responsive and began to become useful, and the real potential was apparent. I was happy to dive in and embrace it, I did miss being able to easily drag and drop items to the panel and launcher, but I soon got used to it.

Most of the time its just me, chrome and a brew
But it was also around this time that it became obvious to me that the interface did not really matter, I was spending more and more time in Google Chrome, never really needing to return to the regular desktop except for media handling duties. That is not to say the OS is dead, the luke warm response to Chrome OS has shown that that we are not really there yet, and I was even one of those lucky one's to receive the first batch of Cr-48's in December 2010. I also kept reading more and more about the various positions in the interface war, and seemingly every comment stream included users dismay at Unity or Gnome Shell and how they were setting off for greener interface pastures. Not having spent any time with other interfaces last year I set out to try out the alternatives.

Gnome Shell's Overview, this the Window view
In the last development cycle I tried out all the Ubuntu derivatives and found that they all had their merits, but I was always happy to come back to Unity after a few weeks with each. Then finally I got around to sampling Gnome Shell and for the most part I really liked what I saw, though having to Google how to turn off my computer was probably not the best introduction. Around that time the Gnome Extensions website was also launched, but running 3.2 on Ubuntu was not the most convenient of experiences as extensions could not be automatically updated and the few bugs that  did exist were not going to be fixed until 3.4 rolled out in March 2012, so I set aside Gnome Shell and returned to Unity.

Overview again, but the Applications view
And here we are with Precise Pangolin Beta 2 and a very enjoyable Gnome Shell running hassle free. I do love Unity, but some features of it do frustrate me slightly. Finding applications, or anything really, is not as easy as it should be. I have converted several friends and family to Ubuntu and they have no problem jumping straight in and using the desktop, usually having used Windows previously (only one Mac convert thus far). While the Dash is a good tool it still lacks the sophistication it needs to be an excellent tool. Typing what you want more often than not leads to a blank page or applications you are not looking for, and this happens to me regularly, never mind new users. A simple misspelling of 'shutter' by a single letter should not leave me with zero results, I am sure in time it will be able to guess what I meant. Likewise typing 'email' can lead to zero results, rather you should look for 'mail' or 'thunderbird'. While we roll our eyes at having to press 'alt' to power off in Gnome Shell, Unity could do without such a steep learning curve also.

A quick search for 'shuttle' returns surprising results!
That said, Gnome Shell is really perfect for those who subscribe to the Bauhaus style of functionality and simplicity, however it takes a while to get used to. I dislike a cluttered desktop, I try to keep it as organised as possible so I do prefer the style, but that said it also lacks some of the functionality that I like. The overall look compared to Unity also feels more 'joined up', and I prefer the glassy black to the charcoal of Ambiance. Having to jump back and forth into overview to find things soon gets tiresome, so to address that I have taken to using Docky together with Gnome Shell and find that they make a really good team. Also the Gnome Extensions website is now much more robust, you just log in, turn the extensions you want on/off, access the settings for those that can be tweaked, update them easily and thus tweak your interface as much as like. Dare I say even more so then the regular Unity. Its not perfect, but it works. Likewise the overview is much more user friendly, simply clicking into 'applications' and scrolling down, or clicking a filter on the right.

Docky in action
What is obvious is that no interface is perfect. While I make criticisms against both Gnome Shell and Unity, I believe they are both setting the standard for all the alternatives. Its good to point out what needs to be addressed as that only leads to a better user experience and while the end-user should remain open to change and considering new ways of doing things, developers should avoid change for the sake of change alone. I have read on the mailing lists that some have considered a Ubuntu community maintained variant of Gnome Shell, however I am not convinced that is the way to go, Gnome Shell already has everything it needs and does work really well in Ubuntu. If anything Ubuntu  developers reaching out and making sure things stay that way might be a progressive way forward for both parties. The Unity launcher working under Gnome Shell, minus the dash and so on, might be an interesting alternative to a regular dock, but of course I am just an end-user with opinions!

An extension in action, easy access to my 'places' and removable drives
Once Precise is done and dusted I am sure the very clever boys and girls in Canonical have some really fun new stuff they can not wait to release. We have seen Ubuntu TV and Ubuntu for Android yet these will probably be the tip of the iceberg, while at the same time Ubuntu attempts to break into new markets. The future for Ubuntu looks bright, even during these tough times, and more importantly regardless of what interface you use with it.


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