Tag Archives: My Computers

One year on Arch Linux

About this time last year, I got a bit of an early “Christmas Present”1: A shiny new work laptop. My work laptop is kind of my “daily driver” machine; I use it to study, code, communicate, and keep up with the latest tech trends, which amounts to the majority of what I use a computer for. I’d had my previous laptop for 5 years or so, and to say it was “lived in” was an understatement.

I’ve been using GNU/Linux in one form or another since around 2004/2005, and for the last several years I’ve been installing a fairly heavily-modified Kubuntu for my main machines. I’d replaced KDE with Awesome WM and rigged up a custom desktop experience; my software was a hodge-podge of repo installs, PPA installs, compiled-from-source software, converted RPMs, a few heaven-knows-where-I-found-them proprietary .debs, etc. etc. The thought of recreating my setup from scratch was just not fun.

I’d been getting the feeling that Ubuntu and I were no longer operating on the same wavelength; I was spending a lot of effort to turn Kubuntu into a bleeding-edge, custom-built, minimalist distro, and using half a dozen different methods to do it. By the time the new laptop arrived I’d decided it was time to give Arch Linux a try.


Replacing Windows 98, and other seemingly impossible tasks

Sometime during the last decade, I managed to get a reputation as the guy to whom you can donate your old, dusty computer when you don’t want it any more; and while I must confess that I don’t mind in the least (keep it coming folks – I do have a major weakness for free computer hardware, as well as a profound satisfaction in making “trash” useful again), it’s often a challenge to actually make use of a lot of it.


Emacs 24 is here!

Well somehow very quietly last month the worlds greatest text-editor/IDE/anything-you-can-imagine software, Emacs, got ratcheted up to version 24.  Actually, 24.1 to be exact.  Major version releases of Emacs don’t happen very often (between 2 and 6 years, on average), so I’ve been excited to get my hands on some of the new features.  My first attempts to compile it on my Ubuntu boxes failed, but fortunately Damien Cassou came through with a PPA for emacs24, and this past weekend I found time to upgrade my systems to the new version.


Ubuntu Studio 12.04

A screen cap of the Ubuntu Studio Desktop

The Ubuntu studio 12.04 desktop.

Not so long ago, I posted about my attempts to bring my old DAW system back to life with Lubuntu.  Emboldened by my success, and eager to get it on a nice firm LTS-release foothold, I tried to upgrade it to Precise Pangolin a few weeks ago.  Sadly, the results were not so great:  after upgrading, I ran afoul of a mysterious bug that caused Ardour, Audacity, and Hydrogen (and possibly other programs) to segfault when I started them.  Despite my best efforts to track down the error (probably caused by my liberal use of PPAs and 3rd-party repositories), it became clear I needed to start afresh.

This time I decided to skip a bit of the DIY and just grab a ready-made audio production distro; after all, there are plenty of them out there, aren’t there?  Well, the hunt began for an audio-production oriented distro that would work decently on an older 32-bit system while promising future updates; and yes, believe me, my not-so-fond-of-Ubuntu friends out there, I didn’t limit myself to ‘buntuland.  Yet search as I might, every project I found seemed either at least 18 months stale (if not out-and-out abandoned), or a one-man project based on Debian or Ubuntu anyway.  In the end, Ubuntu studio seemed best to fit the bill.  So I downloaded the nearly 2 GB .iso file, popped it on my flash drive, and loaded it onto the old workhorse; and here, dear reader, are my findings so far…


Launching URLs with awesome’s Run command

Following on the heels of my google search hotkey in awesome, I decided to tackle expanding the functionality of the run prompt.  Awesome’s run prompt, by default, is basically a command-launcher; it chokes on any input that doesn’t represent an executable file.

I wanted it to behave more like the run prompt in other desktops, so that typing in a URL would open the URL in an appropriate application.

With help from Alexander Yakushev on the awesome mailing list, I managed to figure it out….


First recording with my new setup

Finally got some time last night to do a little recording on my Lubuntu/ardour setup.  I wasn’t doing anything serious, just wanted to lay down some sounds to experiment with software, workflow, and getting a good sound out of my new cajon.

The result is here.  No sequencing or drum programming going on (obviously), just laid down one track at a time into Ardour and mixed down with a handful of plugins.  The lead synth is nekobee running through a parametric eq and rotary speaker sim, recorded live into Ardour.

I’m pretty happy with what it can do, though I still feel like the workflow with Jack/Ardour is a little cumbersome.  My hardware is kind of flaky too, sadly.  Still, there’s something that inspires me more about working with duct-tape and baling wire than with some shiny turnkey system.

Reviving my home studio, this time the free software way

Long ago, before I ever knew a lick of BASH or even what an OS kernel was, my passion was not technology but music, music, and more music.  Roughly the first half of my adult life was devoted to the writing, playing, and recording of music, and by around 2002 I’d built for myself a tidy little home recording & mixing setup centered on Cakewalk Sonar, Jeskola Buzz, and Windows XP.  Alas, the years were not kind to my career or gear, and up until recently my music computer was busy being a game & education machine for the kids.

Thanks to a hard drive crash and the purchase of new machines for the kids, I got my old music machine back, albeit lacking a functioning operating system and software.  So, I decided now was a good time to rebuild it.  This time, though, I decided the time was right to kick XP and Cakewalk to the curb and go it Free Software style.


Lighttpd to the rescue!

Our home server — we call him Rupert — is a real trooper.  Beneath his yellowing beige exterior, a first-gen Pentium 4 works its 224 MB of RAM night and day delivering a variety of services to our home network.  On top of storing our files, caching our DNS requests, filtering the Web for little eyes, and providing me a handy back-door into the network via SSH, rupert’s most important job is delivering a selection of web applications to our home network.

One of the most important — and unfortunately the bulkiest — is Moodle.  Moodle is a CMS designed for schools that deliver online classes and content, and it’s proven quite valuable over the last couple years as an aid in our homeschooling.  Sadly, though, poor Rupert has a tough time dishing out the Moodles. (more…)

Awesome Window manager: my thoughts after the first month.

For years I’ve been a die-hard KDE fan; while I’ll admit to temporarily jumping ship during the tumultuous 4.0 through 4.2 release cycles, and routinely trying out other desktop environments just to see how they schoon, I’ve pretty much stuck with my pal Konqi since back around 3.4.

Screenshot of Awesome window manager

Awesome window manager. Not much to see, but that's kind of the point...

For my desktop, especially at work, KDE still runs the show.  But KDE doesn’t seem to enjoy running properly on my laptop, and frankly does a better job of getting in the way of my workflow than accelerating it.  After some time with XFCE, LXDE, Openbox, and even IceWM, I think I finally found what I’ve been looking for in a desktop environment: Awesome.