3 Days

Until the latest version of Ubuntu Linux comes out.
I’m already using the release candidate on both my desktop and laptop and everything seems to be going well. The betas were, as expected, buggy, but the RC seems to do well. There’s usually a dozen or so updates released daily, but that’s hardly a problem, and normal for pre-release versions as they iron out the kinks.
First impressions:

  • New default theme sucks. It’s like they took all the good parts of Mac OS X’s interface and make them worse. Horrible black-and-purple theme. I immediately switched back to the blue-tinted Human theme that’s served me well for some time. Honestly, I don’t know why they’d do this — most of the people who’d switch to Ubuntu come from a Windows background, so having the Mac-style, top-left location for close/min/max buttons makes little sense.
  • The one major bug that’s been stopping me from using Ubuntu as my primary system for a few years has been resolved. When using the distro-supplied version of Firefox (but never the same version for Mac, Windows, or other versions of Linux), the backspace key in the WordPress admin interface (and only there) was slow and laggy. This has been fixed.
  • I miss the colored “circle of friend” logo next to the Applicatiosn menu. The new gray one is a bit weird. Same thing with the lack of color in the Weather applet next to the system clock. Clearly more tinkering with the themes is needed, though I wish they made this a selectable option.
  • One can now easily toggle the drumroll login sound. Excellent. I’m a fan of silent startups.
  • Not supported with the scan-your-check-for-deposit service with USAA Bank. Strange, as the service uses Java, which Ubuntu has. Go figure. Emails have been sent.

All in all, it looks pretty nice. Many of the interface and usability quirks have been worked out, though I’m still not a fan of the default theme. So far, no major issues to report, but I’ve only been using it for a few days.
While it’s unlikely that Linux will displace Windows in the desktop market in the foreseeable future due to Windows’ huge network effect, Ubuntu is maturing quite quickly, and I suspect it will soon be the de facto standard for desktop Linux (something which is really important to many developers). It’s very nearly to the point where I’d have no problems recommending it to my mom.

On Ads

I really, really,?really dislike online advertising.
I find the claims made by many ads (( “Obama wants you to go back to school!”, “Obama wants you to refinance your house!”, etc. )) to be offensive to my intelligence, and I am not remotely interested in teeth whitening or novelty means of losing weight (( If I was, I’d be talking to my doctor, not clicking an ad. )). Fad diets and colon cleansing are right out.
No, I don’t want to punch the monkey or, for that matter, Osama bin Laden. I don’t want poorly-made faux Windows XP ads warning me that my registry isn’t optimized. I am certainly not the 1,000,000th visitor to a particular site, and I know I have not won any sort of prize. See “Free Lunch, No Such Thing As A”. Making them blink, flash, or vibrate around in ways that induce seizures will not make me click them. Sites that host such ads will likely have me take my eyeballs elsewhere.
I understand that advertising is an important means of funding the operations of many sites, large and small. I don’t begrudge non-intrusive advertising that tries to be somewhat related to what I’m reading. If I’m reading a page that’s talking about, for example, astronomy,?advertisements?for telescopes would be on-topic and related. So long as they’re not obnoxious, don’t blink, flash, pop-up, expand, make noise, or cover/crowd out content, I’m ok with that. If ads for teeth whitening or weight loss come up, that irritates me. If I’m reading a gunblog and there’s an ad for ammo, that’s fine…indeed, I might click the ad to see if the site in question has good deals. If the ad’s for some new TV show, I could care less.
Over the last few years, I’ve routinely used Adblock Plus, an outstanding Firefox add-on that allows one to block ads on pages one views. All this time browsing the web ad-free has been fantastic, and really sped up my browsing.
However, I realize that my actions may have resulted in a financial loss to several of the sites I visit, so I’ve decided to do an experiment: I’ve turned off Adblock Plus and removed the “opt-out” cookies from various advertisers (( This add-on for Firefox makes your choices permanent, even if you clear cookies. )) so they can “target” ads toward my “interests”. Google makes it really easy to view and modify the categories and interests that Google associates with your ad-viewing habits. Cool.
First impressions:

  • Holy moly, there’s a lot of obnoxious ads out there. I really don’t care that George Clooney and Anne Hathaway are “geeks”, nor is it relevant to my interests that a site exists for “Geek 2 Geek Dating”. Such ads are not remotely related to my reading of the news. Flash ads can go die in a fire, as can ones that play sound.
  • On the other hand, there’s a lot of great, on-topic ads. Take, for example, this page. The site allows car owners to enter information about their fill-ups and does some neat stuff with it. On the left there is a color-and-style-matched Google text ad that blends in with the overall layout. At the time of my browsing, it was showing subtle ads for Honda Civics (hey, the page it’s being displayed on is about the Civic! Fancy that.),?Hyundai?Elantras (a competitor to the Civic), and a few other car-related ads. Not obnoxious at all, and relevant to the topic at hand. I approve.

I’ll continue this experiment for the next week or two, after which I’ll turn back on the various protective measures. Based on my results over the experimental period, I’ll consider allowing ads on specific sites that I frequent and that don’t have annoying ads. Those that have irritating ads will be blocked.
Additionally, I’m going to make the following statement: unless it’s absolutely necessary from a financial/operational standpoint (( Or someone is willing to give me an absolutely outrageous sum of money. )), I will not display ads on this site. In the event that I do display ads, they will be subtle and as on-topic and relevant as I can make them. Fortunately, this site requires on the order of $20/year for hosting, domain costs, and other related expenses, so such expenses are barely worth talking about.
That said, I do use services like SiteMeter, Google Analytics, and QuantCast to get some interesting information about visitors. Basically, I like to see where visitors are coming from, mostly so I can edit a post to say “Hi, visitors from [referring site]!”. That, and I like looking at shiny graphs. Having a third-party service do this is far less of a hassle than analyzing server logs, though I’m considering turning off Google Analytics, as it doesn’t do quite what I want it to. I don’t seek to gather any personal information. Hopefully this is not objectionable.


Sorry for the recent downtime.
My host says the explanation for “Saturday morning’s downtime was caused by the hardware failure of a not-as-redundant-as-claimed power supply. Monday morning’s downtime was caused by a software error triggered by the rebuild process that occurred after the system came back online. On Saturday morning, we fixed the hardware problem, and now we are addressing the software problem.”
Things are stable now, and they’ll be moving the disk cluster from the existing hardware onto new hardware in the near future, hopefully increasing reliability.

Security Reminder

The internet can be a dangerous place.
Although one’s primary defense against internet badness should, like in the? real world, be ones own brain, that is often inadequate due to the cleverness of malware out there. Even so, be smart, stay away from shady websites, and don’t engage in shady behavior.
If you don’t have anti-virus/anti-malware software, particularly if you’re using Windows, please install some. The free Microsoft Security Essentials is an excellent choice and I highly encourage its use. Also, ensure that your automatic updates feature is enabled.
This post is brought to you by the people who get viruses due to their own irresponsibility and then come crying to Yahoo! Answers Computer-Security forum for help and ignore the dozens of previous posts about the identical issue and then post a new question.

Starting Anew

For all its flaws and quirks, there’s still something immensely satisfying about a fresh Windows XP installation (( Particularly one that’s going to be used to play old (pre-2005) video games that don’t run well under GNU/Linux or Vista. )).
Next time I need to reinstall Windows on this old PC, I should see about just making an image of the installation when it’s still fresh so that I don’t need to go through the lengthy installation process. Oh well.

Some New Goodies

While yesterday was BAG Day, between paying off a little bit of debt and putting money away for the wedding, money’s been tight, so no new guns for me.
However, I did put a little bit away for the last month or so that I ended up using on Tuesday: my laptop needed a new battery, so I replaced the standard 6-cell battery with the extended 9-cell battery. My old battery had enough juice to run my laptop on the “Dell Recommended” power settings at low usage (typing, web browsing, etc.) for a bit more than an hour. The new battery has a >5 hour capacity, which is nice.
Additionally, I picked up a few electronic goodies at RadioShack (( Yeah, I know they’re not really the highest-quality stuff, but the stores are ubiquitous and reasonably priced. )) : an auto-ranging multimeter, some test leads, a breadboard, some jumper wires, and a few little electronic components — I’ll need it for some projects, both around the house and at the lab. My philosophy on electronics is the same as my philosophy on tools: if you buy and keep the tools required for a specific job, over the course of several jobs you’ll end up with a pretty well-stocked toolchest.
Of course, I’ve been using the multimeter to measure various electrical properties of things around my house. For example, I have a hand-to-hand resistance of about 1.7 MOmega, and I can work up a 1V potential between the leads if I rub one vigorously on the leg of my jeans ((Yes, I use my pants for science. What of it? )). More geekery as I get it.