Thursday, February 5, 2009

Giving Windows 7 Beta a Try

I have been running Ubuntu almost exclusively on my personal PC for over a year now. I have had some issues, most of which I have mentioned on this blog, but the problems I have had running Linux have not been better or worse than the problems I have had with Windows, just different.

I am going to try taking a break from Linux though to give Windows 7 a try. The beta was free for anyone who wanted it and I figure it is about time I try something new from Microsoft. I haven't used Vista except for the occasional web browsing on my wife's laptop. Vista is still foreign to me. Part of my motivation to switch to Linux was in part because of Vista actually. The Vista roll out was a disaster. When it was released there were software compatibility and stability issues, problems with and missing hardware drivers, concerns over intrusive DRM, the super annoying UAC (though you can turn User Access Control off), poor performance (like unzipping files), 4 different versions which was confusing for consumers and it was expensive ($200 - $320 or $100 -$220 to upgrade).

I was wary of performance issues and DRM but the biggest thing for me was it really wasn't worth the money to upgrade. I remember getting the Windows 95 upgrade for my birthday and being so excited about it. That was not the case here. XP is good enough.

Microsoft has learned some things from their expensive Vista release experience though. (Or maybe the press is just nicer to Windows 7.) It looks like they are making Windows 7 what Vista should have been. I do feel a little like I am participating in the Mojave Experiment though by running it. Having this open beta is a good idea. It gets people using the OS and gets more real world usage. It gets buzz like this blog post too. MS also included a "Snipping Tool" that makes taking screen shots of parts of the screen easy. (hint, hint all you beta testers) Getting to run this beta might get me willing to buy my next PC with Windows 7 and dual boot instead of getting a Linux only machine as has been my intention for a while.

So far, I like Windows 7.

What I like:

  • I love the resource monitor. I know it showed up in Vista but it is so useful and worth mentioning!
  • It is much prettier (though much of the changes came with Vista). It is about time Windows supports themes natively.
  • Speedy. This is a fresh install though.
  • Restart your computer after updates notification lets me say 10 min, 1 hour or 4 hours. That has always annoyed me to the point of not installing updates. Still, I shouldn't have to restart that often.
  • It has been stable.
  • Pretty backgrounds that can rotate too!
  • Calculator got much love feature wise.
What I dislike:
  • UAC notifications are annoying! They are even more annoying when controlling the computer with Synergy (shared mouse/keyboard application) because it disables control to the machine from everything but the physical mouse/keyboard.
  • Windows Media Player is confusing. I've never much liked Windows Media Player since about version 9 or 10. The eye candy of the interface makes it hard to use.
  • Still no concept of virtual desktops! Copy that feature please. Feel free to disable it by default. I will not complain that you are copying wherever that came from first.
  • I don't know if I like the new task bar. I am having trouble getting used to not being able to minimize and maximize single windows by clicking on them (only if there is a group, still works with just 1) though in theory I shouldn't need to do that with the full window preview ("peek" is what they call it). This is the biggest change by far. It is a lot like the dock on OS X (though I don't use a Mac enough to be confident with that comparison). I never have like the group windows in previous versions (and always disable it) so this will get some getting used to.
  • What is so special about IE 8?
  • My first encounter with the Ribbon in paint.
I am sure there are tons of other features I will like that I just haven't encountered yet. I have not read much about the OS either so I don't know what features to investigate. This is all just my first experience stuff.

Windows 7 "Peek" Feature

Resource Monitor in Windows 7

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Saving streaming wmv files with Linux

This past week my sister-in-law was on the radio in NYC and my father-in-law wanted me to try and record it for him. Since I live in North Carolina, obviously the only way to do that would be to stream it over the web. I figured finding and listening to the stream would be the easy part. I listen to streaming radio ALL the time (thanks WUNC!).

Before getting into all of this, you are likely going to need to install some applications. Everything I used was available through the Ubuntu repositories though I do have Medibuntu enabled in addition to all the other easily enable able ones (main, universe, restricted and multiverse). This was also all done using 8.10 Intrepid Ibex. I also know I have several of the restricted packages installed which I am pretty sure is the only reason Windows Media files work. Now for the details.

The hard part would be to actually save the stream. Here is a step by step of what I did:

  • Obviously the first step was to find a stream of the station. She was playing on WQXR - 96.3 FM and I found their Windows Media stream on PenguinRadio.
  • I found that VideoLAN - VLC media player would be my best bet. It also works in Windows too. I didn't try this on Windows but I bet it would work the same with VLC.
  • I had the hardest time trying the many command line options for vlc. I really wanted to download the file and transcode it to wav or directly to MP3 but I just couldn't get that to work. Instead I just saved it directly as WMV and decided to worry about the rest later. I had some trouble with all the many GUI options too so I went with the safer command line route. I used the command line:
    vlc -vvv "" --sout '#duplicate{dst=display,dst=std{access=file,mux=asf,dst=/home/forrest/download.wmv}}'
  • Here is the easy to replace version: vlc -vvv "MY_STREAM" --sout '#duplicate{dst=display,dst=std{access=file,mux=asf,dst=MY_DOWNLOAD_FILE}}'

After all that I had a 34.1MB wmv file with just under 27 minutes recorded. At this point I converted it to a wav using mplayer like so: mplayer download.wmv -ao pcm:file=download.wav

Since I wanted to play it safe and be sure not too miss anything I needed recording, I started to recording early and kept it going past time. At first I wanted to use Audacity to trim the file but I had a problem getting that to work so I used a program called sox. To truncate the wav with sox you just specify the trim option, the start time and how long to run (NOT the end time). In my case it was: sox download.wav download-trim.wav trim 14:50 9:39

Next I converted the wav to MP3 so I could make it easy to get to online before burning it to a CD. I was sick of command line options at this point so I used SoundConverter instead of Lame (though it likely uses lame as a back end anyway) to save me the trouble.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Upgrading to Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) from 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron) on my home desktop (in pictures)

Despite Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) being out for over a month now, I just got around to upgrading today. I use my Linux box for web browsing, watching videos, general web development and other day to day tasks so I couldn't afford for it to be down long if the upgrade went badly. Fortunately, the upgrade worked like a charm. So here is the upgrade process that took a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes in pictures:

At this point something was upgraded that caused the border to not show up in the screen shots. Oh well.

After the upgrade the theme was a little funky. I went into the theme editor and changed the theme a few times and it was back to normal. I did see the new dark theme and I am going to give it a try for a little bit. I don't think it will last long but it does look pretty good at first. I also switched to the default background for a bit too.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wine development release 1.1.9 is now available

The Wine development release 1.1.9 is now available.

What's new in this release:
- A large number of regression test fixes.
- Performance improvements in memory management.
- Improved POP3 support in inetcomm.
- Initial implementation of the XInput DLL.
- Various bug fixes.

Binary packages for various distributions will be available from:

One step closer to ignoring thanks to Google

The one site on the Internet that annoys me the most is This seemingly useful site comes up in my search results frequently. The more obscure my query, the more likely an Experts Exchange page will appear in the top results. The problem with this though is they don't answer your question unless you register. This isn't just an annoying New York Times registration either. This is a full blown 7 day trial registration that leads to a $12.95 per month account. Blah!

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with them trying to make money by bringing information together. It is not for me though. I have no desire to pay a monthly fee or to take the time to sign up for a free 7 day trial account to answer some simple question that is likely answered somewhere else on page 1 of my search results. Because I will never use their service I'd like to never be bothered with search results to their pages.

Fortunately, Google is helping us get a little closer to the dream of completely blocking results on The just released a feature called SearchWiki which lets you annotate, promote and remove search results. Granted this is only for when you are logged in and on a per search basis so it is far from the optimal "block everything from this domain" option but it is a step in the right direction. At least I can take my loathing out on the result by removing it. It is as easy as 1.. 2.. 3.. You even get a fun explosion dust cloud while the result is removed.

And while doing a little more research, it looks like there is a Greasemonkey script for Firefox users to block Expert Exchange results for us already.

Also, if you are looking for answers, try Stack Overflow instead. It is actually useful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Free CrossOver for Linux and Mac TODAY ONLY!

CodeWeavers is offering free copies of CrossOver for Linux and Mac users for today, October 28th only! They are doing this as part of a Lame Duck Challenge Free Offer. CrossOver is based on Wine which allows you to run Windows applications on Linux and Mac platforms by implementing the Windows API on those platforms.

As of writing this, their website is in slim mode because of all the traffic but they are still accepting email address submissions and providing downloads for their Pro and Games versions of CrossOver. Go download it now if you are a Linux or Mac user. What do you have to lose?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ubuntu 8.10 is coming soon...

Ubuntu 8.10 is set to be released on October 30th. Only 13 more days to go.