I upgraded my machines to Maverick - nothing much too say, except that the upgrade went pretty smooth. The upgrade on my netbook was the most interesting : the Ubuntu Netbook Remix interface (UNR) was about to be replaced with a brand new interface, called Unity. Now, I still don't like the fact that Ubuntu forces the user interface with every last upgrade to the standard one, but with Unity, all now makes more sense :

  • The placing of the close-minimize-maximize buttons is excellent for minimal mouse gestures
  • The dashboard alike interface of UNR gets replaced with a vertical Windows7/OSX alike dock. With the default maximization of windows, this works great.

However, in Unity, there are still some annoying bugs :

  • I sometimes need to click twice on a startup button before the application starts, as if the dock is too less sensitive.
  • The window title sometimes gets overwritten with other stuff
  • The Ubuntu logo should display a menu if clicked, instead of minimizing all windows. If you want to fire up a non-docked application, you need to go to the Applications button, which displays all installed applications with their icon (which is kind of a mess)

Apart from that, very neat interface.

Rotating wallpaper

I've been working a while on a Windows 7 machine, and one of the nice desktop blings there is the rotating wallpaper item. There are quite some sets available, and you can download many more (eg like the famous Bing backgrounds). Linux has this functionality already since some time, but the sets of available wallpapers there are quite limited.

I've played around with Drapes, but the rotation time is quite small (I want maximum one wallpaper rotation per day). So why not write a script which downloads automatically some wallpaper from sites like APOD, Bing or National Geographic ?

Here are some scripts I found on the internet which do this for you. Place them in your crontab with a frequency of your liking.


# modify this, if you want to save to other place
#  - $HOME: your home dir
#  - %F: full date (%Y-%m-%d)
#  - other date format: man date :P
OUTPUT=`date "+$HOME/Pictures/bing_bg.%F.jpg"`

# get the page, and separate the background image (DONT touch this)
IMG=`wget -q -O- | sed -r "s/[\]//g;s/.*g_img=\{url:'([^']+)'.*/\1/gp;d"`

# get the background image to the output (DONT touch this)
wget -q "$IMG" -O "$OUTPUT"
# error handle
if [ $? -gt 0 ]; then
        echo "there is a problem with downloading.."
        exit 1
# Setting background-image.
# NB: Use an absolute URL
gconftool-2 -t string -s /desktop/gnome/background/picture_filename "~/Pictures/bing_bg.%F.jpg"
gconftool-2 -t string -s /desktop/gnome/background/picture_options "zoom"

National Geographic

#Based on code of APOD, you can really find everywhere on the web.

#Downloading html of the Picture-Of-The-Day
wget -N -O /tmp/ngpod.html
#Getting the URL of the image
img_location=`egrep -o "[^]*\.jpg" /tmp/ngpod.html|head -n 2|tail -n 1`

rm /tmp/ngpod.html

#Download image
TODAY=$(date +'%Y%m%d')
wget $img_location -O ~/Pictures/$TODAY.jpg

# Setting background-image.
# NB: Use an absolute URL
gconftool-2 -t string -s /desktop/gnome/background/picture_filename "~/Pictures/$TODAY.jpg"
gconftool-2 -t string -s /desktop/gnome/background/picture_options "zoom"

B-klas, #2

Hoera ! Onze jongste hond Jitta, een goeie 7 maand oud ondertussen, heeft met vlag & wimpel de overgangsproef doorstaan voor de B-klas. De saaie oefeningen zijn voorbij, vanaf nu begint de training zonder leiband...

The quest for a new netbook

Netbooks are laptops done right. I had no idea how true this was before I actually bought a netbook myself. While only being slightly larger than a DVD-cover, my eeePC-900 was so portable, I've taken it with me around the world, both for work and holiday trips. My eeePC has been indeed so successful, it has completely wiped out my need for my laptop, which has been mostly gathering dust since the netbook purchase.

However, a (first generation) netbook still has some serious disadvantages :

  • disk is mostly a combination of SSD and SD, and very limited in space.
  • the keyboard is way too small to type comfortably
  • the battery is very limited in life expectancy.

My new netbook had to overcome those three limitations. Not a big deal, since most current netbooks deal with this already. In addition, I wanted a minimum of 2GB RAM and a CPU with virtualization possibilities. As I was very happy with the eeePC line, I almost opted for a eeePC-1201HA, which sports the Z520 CPU, which had Intel-V support. Unfortunately, the netbook got slaughtered in every review because of its slow performance.

My final choice was the Samsung N220 Premium Plus, a N450 based laptop with 2GB RAM and a 350GB hard disk. As the laptop is red, I feared a bit for too much of hardware bling, but the color is nicely darkish red, so it doesn't scream out in a meeting room. So far, I've been really happy with the netbook itself. The following are only (very) minor annoyances, but indeed are things that could have been better :

  • If some netbook manufacturer brands a netbook with a Premium label, I expect the least they can do, is to include a pouch with it. As a netbook gets carried along everywhere, you want a cover for it to avoid excessive scratching, unless it is not made in plastic. No pouch with my edition, though I've heard that latest Samsung netbooks come again with this addition.
  • The Power button comes in some sort of a slide button, which is on the front of the netbook. A true button would have been better, and would have been better if been protected by the lid.
  • If the lid is closed, it is very hard to see if the netbook has been suspended, as the LEDs are hidden by the lid itself.

What is exellent is that netbook is completely silent : the hard disk is perfectly mute, and the fan makes only a slight noise under high stress. The netbook comes with Windows 7 Home Premium Edition, which starts its installation when you power on for the first time. The good thing is that it lets you choose the partitioning, so the hard disk is split by default into 3 partitions :

  • first partition carries the Windows7 OS
  • the second partition is a 14GB restore partition
  • the third is an empty D-drive, which can be used for data & installed programs.

In a next post, I'll describe what tweaks were necessary to install & use a 64bits Ubuntu on the 3rd partition.

Running the native Nvidia drivers

Since the upgrade to Karmic on my desktop, graphic performance has gone down considerably. I solved this in the past by downgrading Nvidia, but since Lucid, this has become impossible. It's not that I cannot live without the desktop bling, but suspend-resume is impossible without running the Nvidia drivers. The problem manifest itself by very high CPU bursts by kernel processes (kondemand, ksoftirqd), which makes the desktop unworkably slow.

I tried everything, from disabling PAT, KMS modesetting, switching framebuffers, all without success. I even tried to enable Lenny's Nvidia drivers, but that pulled in a 2.6.26 kernel, which I cannot use, because my filesystems are ext4.

I eventually turned in despair to the Nvidia website, looking for older drivers. The 173 release was still available in the archive download section, which came as a ncurses-based installer. These Nvidia based drivers are famous for messing up a Linux system, so I was rather reluctant to use those. I still decided to give them a go, which rather went surprisingly really well.

Finally a performant system again !