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Ubuntu

Journal: The End of Ubuntu 4

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

I have just upgraded my machine from Ubuntu 11.04 to 11.10 and everything is broken.

Everything.

It began with Unity. The horror. If there's a way of finding the main menu, I wasn't able to discover it. Menu bars have entirely disappeared from applications, to be replaced with the mac "menu on top" paradigm, a.k.a. one of the main reasons I've never used a Mac since 1994. You can't even log out of the bloody interface, let alone tweak it. Even the fonts are terrible.

It took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to get rid of Unity and replace it with Gnome 3 and I can't say there's really much of a difference in terms of usability. All of my default Gnome 2 desktop settings have been blown out of the water. Completely. My panels and taskbars and lauchers are either deleted or are all over the place. Even if I wanted to change them back, everything is basically uncustomisable as far as I can tell. You can't move objects around in the taskbars. Yes that's right. You can't move objects around in the taskbars.

Is this what a desktop is supposed to feel like?

I feel like my computer window has been turned into a walled garden, like that on an iDink, which I am permitted to carress and fawn over, but have disallowed from making my own in any way. Will I have to download some kind of "App" from the "Ubuntu App Store" to gain back basic functionality? Do I have to dive into arcane settings and ppa just to get back the system which I had and liked only a few hours ago? Do I have to give up and choose Gnome 3, or move to XFCE, or move everything to the shell, or basically waste the next two weeks getting back what I had?

If that's the price of Ubuntu (and it is) then I am leaving.

Ubuntu and Gnome died the moment they allowed the UI designers to take over. The art students, the inveiglers, the smooth talkers, the wild eyed dreamers, the "visionaries", the people who didn't care what they were doing as long as it made them feel talented and superior. These are the people who have designed unusable,confusing systems and interfaces that delete years of carefully customised menus and discourage serious use of computers.

And as for the "boring" people, the programmers, the testers, the package maintainers, the people who listen to the community, those who put real thought and concern for users into their themes and interfaces, the people who don't go to conferences, who communicate with users directly via forum and newsgroup, who sit at their desks working to make distros better, often for no reward at all; what of them? Are they in charge in this brave new work? No. They are cast down and out, by a brigade of bullshitters too busy bopping on their iPods and blogging than in doing useful work.

If you let the wrong people into an organisation or a community, they can destroy it. Ubuntu and Gnome shows that this can happen to distros and open source projects just as easily and quickly as it has happened in the many industrys, countrys, and economies throughout the word. The destroyers will fail upwards, the blazing heat of their incompetence scortching all new pastures dry. The rest of us will be left behind to pick up the pieces and start again. In 5 years time, Ubuntu may be back on the path to being usable again, but I can't wait that long.

I'm thinking of starting off with Mint.

PC Games (Games)

Journal: NAT is the Fucking Devil 3

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

I need a place to have a full on rant about this. My Slashdot Journal is as good as any.

Is it so much to ask, that in 2009, the video game industry as a whole would have figured some way around the problem of home routers and getting devices behind them to communicate with devices behind other home routers. Yes, I know, it's not a trivial issue. WAN/LAN IPs, DNS, End to end connectivity, Ports, TCP, UDP, protocols and connections, planes trains and automobiles. Yes, it's not an easy thing to accomplish.

But you've had ten fucking years!!! Or as near as makes no difference.

How many times have I had to reset, reconfigure and reinstall routers? How many times have I had to click through those infuriating HTML configuration pages, one form at a time, in an effort to add, port by port, protocol by protocol, game by game, each and every little irritating requirement just to get the fucking game I bought to play online like Mechwarrior 2 did flawlessly back in 1997!?!?!?!?

I've cracked. I admit it. The final straw was this latest gem from Team Fortress 2, a game I don't even play(I basically manage the router for 5 people). I had to set up port forwarding and QoS (Whatever the fuck that is) just to let the gods damned game to play properly.

  • UDP 27000 to 27015 inclusive (Game client traffic)
  • UDP 27015 to 27030 inclusive (Typically Matchmaking and HLTV)
  • TCP 27020 to 27050 inclusive (Steam downloads)
  • TCP 27015 (SRCDS Rcon port)

61 ports. Sixty One ports. And that's just for the forwarding, never mind the QoS malarky. Yeah, Fuck you too Valve. And want to know the best part? It's a server based game!! Why in fuck's name do I need to do any of this?! Oh give me lag any day of the week.

But to be fair, it's not just Value. Far, far from it. It's not even PC developers, each mandating their own custom crafted set of ports and protocols to enable online play behind a router. No, consoles too have gotten in on the game. Take these gems required for the Playstation Network.

  • TCP Ports: 80, 443, 5223
  • UDP Ports: 3478, 3479, 3658

TCP port 80. Otherwise known as the HTTP port. Great. And what's this? TCP 443. You mean the HTTPS port. Great choice guys. Yeah, thanks for that. I'll forward those right away.

Come on Microsoft. You've been computing specialists for over 30 years. What's needed to run Xbox live behind a router?

  • TCP Ports: 80, 53, 3074
  • UDP Ports: 88, 53, 3074

Great classy. I lover that overlap with PSN on the Port 80 thing. Can't have them hogging HTTP entirely, especially since you control the DNS ports now. Awesome. Complete clusterfuck. Why doesn't one of you mandate port 22 altogether, so my entire network will be totally inaccessible from outside for anyone not using a game's console.

Oh well, I guess at least with consoles you only have to forward one set of ports for all games right... right?

In order to play GTA IV via the PS3 network you will need to open the following ports on your router:

  • UDP ports: 6672, 28900
  • TCP ports: 8000-8001, 27900, 28900

AAAAGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! I'm not a network administrator! I don't have any certs from Cisco!! No! I can't use IPTABLES!! How would I get Linux onto the router in the first place?! What do you want?! Blood?!?! I just want to play games!!!

And don't talk to me about UPnP! Just don't. As far as I can tell, the Useless, Painful 'n Pointless protocol's only meaningful function is to establish connections between devices which confirm UPnP is available, but then don't work anyway. I've never once managed to get a single game to work using it. It has never worked and it will never work. Most companies don't even mention it. They skip straight to port forwarding, gleefully rolling off their own in house list of obnoxious ports.

You know what this is like? It's like every video game publisher and company is trying to stake it's claim to ranges of ports and protocols. By insisting on their own original, capricious and dogmatic set of connection requirements, it's as though Sony, Microsoft, EA, Valve and all the rest are trying to enforce by fiat what would normally require an RFC to be made official. Namely, the assignment of a port. Companies are literally carving out their own space on what is supposed to be a no ownership zone. And trust those armchair experts at Wikipedia, to stick these turf claims in a Registered Ports List. "Oh but, the unregisted ones are in blue OMF". FUCK YOU! There are only 65000 ports, which is too few to risk being lost to this bullshit.

So that's why I think this NAT business hasn't been resolved. Moving the video game industry to a solid standard whereby games automatically established connections(and hang the technical difficulties), would mean that companies would have to give up their little slice of that very relatively small pie of 65000 port numbers. These are corporations we're talking about, and giving up something that big, that central to the functioning of the entire internet, even if it's just a squatters claim, is not a step any of them are willing to take.

So, in my opinion, we're going to be stuck with this NAT port forwarding bullshit for quite some time yet. I fully expect more and more games to lay claim to ever larger pastures of unsettled port space, and continue to do so until the whole spectrum is so fully overloaded that people's routers or patience simply snap under the strain. Mine certainly has.

Mercifully, my ISP seems to allow PPPoE over a router, which thankfully the PS3 and Xbox360 both support. True, it exposes them to the elements in a way having them behind a router would not, but I really don't care any more. NAT is the fucking devil, and I've had enough of having my crank yanked as a pawn in this port squatting farce, so it's a WAN IP for me.

At least until all the IPv4 address run out and I have to set up all this shit again of IPv6 addresses.

PlayStation (Games)

Journal: The Trouble with PC Ports 1

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

I wrote a journal entry two years back. I had recently bought Oblivion and had spent 10 hours try to get it to simply run, and the post basically outlined how PC games require far too much effort from the user to simply run, let alone become playable. This post can be regarded as a followup.

I ended up liking Oblivion, so much so that I bought the Game of the Year edition for the PS3. The graphics were a lot better, and there were no control issues or installation worries. Then I ran into the, effectively show stopping, PS3 Vampire Cure Bug, after probably 50+ hours of play. Bethesda apparently have no intention of ever patching or fixing this bug. I can safely say that if I had know that this bug was present, I would never have bough the game.

As I see it, PC game makers like Bethesda, simply are not going to make it in the current generation of games. Show stopping bugs with no official efferot to patch them might be acceptable in PC gaming, but console gaming has historically had a much higher standard when it comes to major bugs and glitches. Even in the days of the PS2, if a game crashed, it was quite a shock, and a major black mark on your opinion of the game. Show stopping bugs with no workaround, are to my memory completely unheard of.

Say what you will, but up until effectively two years ago, the first version of your console game was going to be the last. Companies had no recourse whatsoever apart from a total recall if they needed to change so much as one bit in the game binary. Under those conditions, a very high level of quality was sought and in fact was achieved in the vast majority of cases. Console gamers have spent the last 20+ years playing games that largely did not crash, did not glitch(obtusely), and did not have show stopping bugs. PC gamers have spent the last 20+ years trying, and failing, to get games not to do any of these things.

My point is that console gamers have come to expect a certain level of quality and professionalism, and console game makers have responded accordingly. PC gamers have come to expect patches, hotfixes and workarounds, and PC game makers have become complacent when it comes to errors, and contemptuous towards their users. This does not bode well for "establishment" PC game makers trying to break into the console market. I believe they are, one by one, doomed to fail in this regard.

Unreal Tournament 3 crashes all over the place on PS3. Oblivion:GOTY has character which when spoken to display "I HAVE NO GREETING" default errors. Call of Duty 4's level and art design is aesthetically appalling. The best titles PC gaming has to offer typically end up a second or third rate titles when it comes to console gaming. A lot of this has to do with control schemes. RTS titles and games like the Sims are fundamentally unsuited to a console controller. But it also has to do with the overall quality of PC titles which when compared to console titles, simply don't meet the grade.

It works both ways. Titles among the best that console gaming has to offer typically do not fare well when ported to PCs. Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid 2, Halo. However, this is likely due to control and framerate issues, and with PC gamepads becoming more common(Xbox 360 pad plug and play in Windows), and graphics cards improving, these issues alleviated somewhat.

However, PC games makers have a much larger step to overcome if they want to break the console market. They need to overcome a culture of complacency. A culture that allows games to be released that will not work without a patch. The culture that allows a game to be shipped with known bugs still present. The culture that thinks graphics improvement means simply increasing texture rates and bloom and has no time for aesthetic design. The culture that essentially holds technical metrics in awe and game players in contempt. It is a culture driven in large part by the backing of PC hardware manufacturers and not the feedback of gamers.

I was looking forward to Fallout 3. But I will no longer be buying it when it arrives. I have been burned quite badly by Bethesda already, and I have no reason to believe that they will change their ways. It's a similar situation with many PC gamer companies. They are steeped in a culture that simply will not work in the console world. I expect many to simply stop releasing console ports in the years ahead, as it becomes clear that console gamers will not tolerate half finished or unsupported products.

There's something to be said for PC gaming. But professionalism among PC game makers is not it.

PC Games (Games)

Journal: The Trouble With PC Games 5

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

I just bought my first PC game in a long time. Oblivion. So far I've been at this for about five hours and I still haven't managed to actually get around to playing the game. No sir. First you must troubleshoot. Now I remember why I stopped buying PC titles.

The First issue on install was the graphics. My card is an older Nvidia 5200, which to be fair, did have 256MB of RAM. After much questing, I eventually discovered that I needed to change a shader setting in an ini file to get things to run anywhere near smoothly. An ini file!! I was under the impression that those days were long behind the PC gaming sector. Clearly not.

The major difficulty turned out to be with my joypad. Oblivion, by default, is set to use the diabolically carpal tunnel inducing control scheme known as "The Keyboard and Mouse". I would use the handy and ergonomic dual analog joypad I have, but Oblivion flat out refuses to detect the last of the four available axes, blowing that idea out of the water. And no matter which way I tweak the setting, the game simply will not become playable without that fourth axis.

After over eight years away, I return to find that PC game creators still expect me to use the keyboard to move about. What's worse, they now expect me to use WASD instead of the arrow keys. Who came up with that bright idea? W is not directly above S you know.

Never mind the fact that before I even installed the game needed an obscene 4.6GB of hard disc space!! Going on the last "first person" type PC game I purchaced, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, which took up 65MB of space in 1997, that corresponds to a space requirement inflation rate of about 60% per year. Take that, Moore's Law. Well, the hard disc equivalent at any rate.

I suppose I should thank Bethesda, the creators of Oblivion. I had been considering upgrading my current PC to avail of what the PC industry might offer me, now that the console market is in a slump. Now, having spent 60 on the best game the PC sector has to offer, I can say with confidence I won't be buying a gaming rig anytime soon.

I'm still going to try and play Oblivion. It seems a student of the old school western RPG. Lots of dungeons, item and quests to keep you busy. I will not be "comfortable" playing it, hunched as I shall be, hands splayed out over two devices, one paticularly ill suited to its task; rather than reclined comfortably in a nice soft chair with controller neatly in my hands. Alas.

The moral of this story, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I missed you too PC gaming... you cantankerous old bastard.

Update: After a few hours of research, I managed to get the game to run very reasonably throughout the first dungeon. Everything was fine, including the control scheme, and I ironed out a few minor bugs on the way. It was al looking quite good. Very good in fact.

However, once I reached the overworld, things quickly took a turn for the worse. It looked terrible, crashed continuously and I have neither the time nor the inclination to basically debug Bethesda's beta software. So Oblivion is going to stay on the shelf for a few years. Maybe when I next upgrade my main rig, the game will be playable. Until then, I'm not wasting my time with what is essentially a buggy Xbox360 port.

My advise to anyone considering purchasing the game is to leave this one to stew for a year or two, because it's not finished.

Slashdot.org

Journal: New Slashdot CSS Font Size 3

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

The new Slashdot CSS redesign is here. I suppose we can all learn to live with it. I've got some misgivings about the contrast, but I imagine I'll get used to it. The font has also changed to sans, but I guess I'll get used to that too.

There is one thing, however, that really is bugging me. And it isn't just a trivial gripe. It's the new font size. In short, it's too small. What's worse, horror of horrors, this change has been applied to the comments section.

My eyesight's not the best, and I imagine most slashdotters have less than 20/20 vision. I run at 1024x768 resolution normally, and it's my understanding that many people run even higher than this. I can only presume that the main site's text would be around 3mm tall on a 17'' monitor at 1280x1024. I can't see that this is a good thing for the eyes.

I don't agree with the view that "smaller looks better", when it comes to text, or indeed, any UI at all. I blame winamp for the recent trend towards ever smaller font and button sizes, but I digress.

The most important thing about any redesign is keeping the site useable. In the case of Slashdot, most users are simply reading text, sometimes writing. in this regard, the redesign has slipped up,(not failed, just slipped up) in that reading has now been made harder by the smaller text. This isn't a small issue, it's a big one.

Reasons for the slip up? Perhaps CmdrTaco sits too close to the screen? Perhaps he's got a 22'' monitor? Perhaps he has better eyesight than most of us. Regardless, this is a serious issue, and needs to be addressed.

KDE

Journal: Moving To KDE 5

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

It's time. I've moved to KDE.

The long list of grievances I've suffered uder GNOME is simply too long to recount, here or anywhere. The last straw was, in the end, nautilus' removal of an address bar, and so I could not type in, for instance, smb://, anywhere.

And before anyone tries to point out that there really was an address bar there somewhere if I'd just typed ctrl-/ or something, I simply don't care anymore.

KDE is looking good already. Quite frankly, Konsole alone is enough of a reason to make the switch. The system is responsive and options and customisation are where I expect them to be, and do what I expect them to do. I'm not too fond of the lack of history in the CPU monitor applet, but sacrafices must be made I suppose.

In the end though, it was not KDE that lured me away. It was Gnome's beligerance that forced me to find better pastures. Simply put, it's a disaster I don't care to try and live with, or fix. I'm aware of KDE's issues with TrollTech, and it does bother me, but frankly in my opinion, Gnome are abusing the FOSS movements goodwill towards their GPL'ed status.

Gnome isn't going to change, so I am instead.

Windows

Journal: MS Expat: Linux is 50 man-years away from world domination.

Journal by Stephen Samuel
After 10 years at Microsoft with less than "10 minutes with any Open Source code till I left Microsoft-which is actually very typical for MS employees.", this expat left Microsoft and spent a year using Linux (mostly Umbutu). It was a bit of a shock. To be precise, he "had an epiphany that Linux on the desktop is 99.999% ready to go. Linux is lean, stable, polished and extremely rich. All of the pieces needed for world domination on the desktop are there."

His back of the envelope calculation is that Linux is about 10,000 bugs away from being fully world-domination ready -- or about 50 man-years -- and some of those bugs are due to lack of support from device manufacturers.

User Journal

Journal: Dupes on Slashdot

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

A second dupe by ScuttleMonkey in less than 48 hours.

Story 1: Original) Dupe)
Story 2: Original) Dupe)

To rub salt into the wound, the second dupe poster deliberately did so, as is evident from his "anti-slash" style site. This guy is probably a playfull kind of troll. But I don't critisise his actions. I applaud them.

Exposure of corruption is an applaudable act, and incompetance is the worst form of corruption. Anything done to expose the steadily growing incompetance of the Slashdot editorial team is good in my book.

I could post an entire rant about the whole Slashdot editorial system, but instead, I'll just ask one question. One question to the Slashdot editors. Only one. Yes or No. Not a difficult one, not a hidden trap. I won't follow up on it. I'm not going to harp on it. I'm not going to challenge any answers you give. I won't even respond to them. Just one question.

Question:

Does ScuttleMonkey read the Slashdot Front Page?

That's it. Yes or no. If any of the Slashdot editors ever read this, or hear of it, it would be nice to get an answer. That's all I'm asking for. Nothing more.

Yes, or No?

Power

Journal: The Nuclear Question

Journal by ObsessiveMathsFreak

Nuclear energy is getting a lot of press lately. Most of it good. It was inevitable given the rising price of oil, that nuclear proponents would finally have their place in the sun. Here's some of my thoughts on this issue, for anyone who might give a fiddlers for the opinions of one lone maths freak.

The main reason nuclear energy is being pushed so much lately is because of the rising price of oil. Nuclear proponents are now being listened to by those looking around for alternate sources of energy. It actually has very little to do with the safety, cost and/or enviornmental impact issues. The nuclear situation hasn't changed a whole lot in the last five years, or inded the last fifty.

The arguments for nuclear energy are in fact, exactly the same ones that were put forward in the fifties. Namely a cheaper, cleaner, more efficient form of energy. There is a large degree of truth to all these arguments, and possibly more so now than when nuclear reactors were first proposed.

So the big question here is, if nuclear power is so great, then why haven't we switched to it in the meantime?

The most important reason for the lack of switch is, or rather was, cheap oil. Oil burning generators were quite simply too cheap to pass up. But now, with the rising cost of oil, this has changed.

Another reason for our relative lack of nuclear plants is essentially their bad public reputation, not all of which is unjustified. The reasons for this bad rep are varied.

First, is the connection in the public mind between nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs. This connection is made ever more concrete with TV shows and movies having plotlines where reactors are essentially turned into nuclear bombs by terrorists and the like.

But hollywood fantasy aside, this link in the public mind is justified to a some degree. The radioactive byproducts of commerical nuclear reactors are in fact key components in nuclear armaments; plutonium being the chief amoung these. With an increase in nuclear reactors, there will be an inevitable increase in the raw material for nuclear weapons so to speak. And so with the proliferation of nuclear power, it is not beyond reason to conjecture nuclear weapons proliferation as well.

The second reason for public mistrust of nuclear power is the radiation factor. Radiation and radiation poisioning are unknown factors for most of the human population. Again this situation is not helped by hollywood dramatisations of the effects of radiation. In some cases, outright fantasy scenarios of nuclear "fallout" involving mutated monsters roaming a desertified landscape prey on the public mind.

Still, again there is some justification in the public being cautious on this issue. Radioactive substances are dangerous substance and should not be treated lightly. Some might argue that this is no more so the case with radiation than with other harmful chemical and biological substances. However, unlike most chemical and biological agents, radioactive substances have an irritatingly long "half life", which increases significantly the duration of any contamination by comparision to a chemical spill.

If we take the recent Harbin Benzene spill in China as an example. This chemical spill has affected millions and caused considerable enviormental damage; fish kills etc. However, to a greater or lesser extent, most of the benzene will wash away or break down into less harmful chemicals. But could the same be said of the spill contained radioactive material?

Radioactive material dumped within the watershed of a major river like the Mississippi or the Rhine is something the public should be wary of. To a greater or lesser degree than a chemical spill, or indeed, the dumping of fumes into the atmosphere? Time will tell on this one.

Arguably the biggest reason for public skepticism for nuclear power is the track record of the nuclear industry. Chernobyl was, and remains, the biggest argument against nuclear energy. 300,000 people were displaced, a city and its hinterland was essentially written off of the books, and the on going medical and social problems currently affect millions. No accident at an oil or gas plant, no matter how severe, can come close to the level of destruction wrought by Chernobyl. The Harbin benzene spill, despite its severity, pales in comparision. Harbin is not a write off.

On a more day to day basis, the nuclear industry does have numerous blemishes. Three Mile Island being the most infamous. More serious and ongoing is a somewhat cavalier attitude towards the radioativity, with highly radioative cooling ponds existing outside many reactors, as well as incidents at Sellafield, where actual material was simply dumped into the ponds, and close to 30kg of plutonium have literally gone missing. The nuclear industry is run by human beings, who, for whatever reason, do not always run things as they should be run.

Still, it seems unfair to tarnish the entire industry with one brush. The majority of nuclear plants seem to have been run without incident. But as the amount of nuclear plansts increases, and if regulations become lax to accommidate them, any leaks or loose ends in the industry's procedures will become more apparent. The industry has a chance to grow now, but it may end up shooting itself in the foot if things go awry.

The last reason for public mistrust involves the disposal of nuclear material. And this is arguably the biggest of all the headaches associated with nuclear energy. Techniques may have improved, and the argument against the polluting nature of coal and oil fumes are put forward, but essentially the solution to nuclear waste material is to throw it in a big concrete lined hole and hope it will go away. The industry likes to think otherwise, as all polluters do, the coal and oil burners, the garbage disposal companies etc.. .

To be sure these disposal drums may be sophisticated, but the public still misturst the whole business. It is the low tech back end to the illustriously high tech nuclear industry. The wonders of nuclear energy, almost mystical in their abilities to the public, are brought back down to earth by the images of drums of material being dumped into a pit, to sit there for a hundred years not to become non-radioactive, but only "as" radioactive as natural uranium. Joe public might not know the ins and outs of radioactive decay, but he knows dumping when he sees it.

But again is this an issue? Especially compared to oil and coal etc... ? It certainly will be if these disposal drums are not constructed to the highest standards. Again, a leaking drum in the water supply of a major city would be a disaster. Arguably more so from a public relations rather than a health perspective. Not that health effects might not be significant. As nuclear power increases, and waste material increases, the nuclear industry would do best to go out of its way to ensure that dumping remains shiny clean nuclear's dirty little secret, otherwise the whole industry will be set back all over again.

Nuclear power has benefits, but it has some drawbacks as well, like most things. Unfortunately, some of the drawbacks of nuclear power are very serious indeed, and it will take real and sustained efforts to ensure that nuclear remains safe as well as cheap. My biggest worry is that cheap will win the day, and the only driver of safety and professionalism in the nuclear industry, like in any other, will be a serious accident or disaster. It is a sad fact that people must often be killed before industry is made to take things seriously.

User Journal

Journal: Is Sony a beachhead? 1

Journal by Stephen Samuel
The head of the RIAA has mentioned that Sony isn't the only company putting malware onto their CDs. The question, then, is: Should we be using Sony as a beachhead to get the public up in arms about what the media companies are doing, and planning to do with our privacy, viewing rights and purchaser rights?

The number of arguments is unimportant unless some of them are correct. -- Ralph Hartley

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