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User Journal

Journal Journal: This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

So I'm amusing myself with desktop Linux distros again. So far I've only got Ubuntu and OpenSUSE installed in virtual machines, but I'm already getting that familiar sinking feeling. Both installed fine, they always have - Ubuntu's installer on their live CD is something to behold and I think just about anyone could muddle their way through that one with very minimal knowledge. OpenSUSE's installer is competent and downright easy for me, but has some oddly technical questions I wouldn't expect in a desktop oriented install (partitioning is far less user friendly in the OpenSUSE installer).

Post install the first thing I wanted to do was make sure that I was fully up to date, because I know the CD images get old quickly. Ubuntu did this flawlessly, though it's autoupdater started popping up those balloon notifications telling me I need to update...while I was updating. OpenSUSE started out fine, installed some updates, said it needed to restart, and then found more updates. And then things broke. Attempting to get any further updates failed with a cryptic error message:

kdesu(17907)/kdesu (kdelibs)
[/usr/src/packages/BUILD/kdelibs-4.0.4/kdesu/client.cpp : 196 ] no reply from daemon

An install less than 10 minutes old, throwing up messages like that? I was really hoping we were past this sort of thing by now. I don't know what caused it - I think the previous round of updates did include one for the package manager, but I'm not sure. It doesn't really matter. Even if that was the issue, it's inexcusable. The fix was simple, at least. You run the package manager on the command line to get your system fully up to date, then everything will (supposedly) work fine from then on. It's apparently a common problem, with plenty of bugs filed against it and lots of forum posts, many of which date back months.

This seems to happen pretty often with package managers. They update themselves, or something vaguely related, and then they're temporarily lobotomized until someone finds a fix for the self-inflicted retardation. It's these sort of details that start to add up after a while: applets that randomly stop working, won't respond to privilege elevation, crash randomly, and so on. They don't really do a whole lot - generally only one thing apiece, but they do important things: they change resolution, connect you to access points, change your UI appearance, set keyboard layouts, and so on. But the minute you need one it becomes extremely inconvenient for it to not work. And in the case of things like updaters, it's not just inconvenient - I'd consider that a serious security and stability issue.

I'll be trying some installs out on a real spare hard disk I have laying around sometime soon - I'm still poking around for more desktop-ish distros to trail in a VM first.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Of Vista, and Of Games

I tried Vista back when it was still very new, and found everyone's criticisms to be founded, so this is actually my second try with Vista. I was motivated to give it a second attempt because I was tired of having to run my user account in administrative mode all the time. This didn't really concern me until my windows setup was compromised by a link I clicked (in Firefox, no less!). I was surprised. I had javascript enabled, but Java was definitely not enabled, and neither was Flash. I still have no idea how exactly it happened - I do know that the firewall went nuts and I locked down the network connection immediately. I'm pretty sure nothing got out, but the damage was done: the virus protection ripped out the print spooler and some optical drive filter drivers, and there was really no telling what it missed. So just like that wrecked car that might be repaired if anyone could be assed to care these days, I wrote it off and salvaged what I could and just swept the rest into the garbage. Remember kids: we don't keep anything important on the Windows partition.

Yes, Windows XP does allow limited users which would have prevented that sort of damage, and generally speaking this works fine for desktop apps and everyday productivity type of stuff. But, many apps still haven't gotten the now ages old memo that we're not going to write to Program Files anymore. Games especially are guilty of this, and being the type of person who games regularly, a limited user account quickly wore out its welcome on Windows XP. Vista has that UAC feature though. Perhaps I can make that work to my advantage.

For one thing, the closer we get to XP being officially discontinued, the more apps I see repenting the old ways and writing their crap into the user account - that means that on XP with limited users things work just fine...for the most part. And on Vista those apps that are trying really hard to reserve a seat in hell and continue to write to their program folder will only require that I allow them, instead of just failing miserably like early XP did.

I actually did several Vista installs over 3 days before finally satisfying my curiosity with the installer. It's nice that it can take drive controller drivers from a USB stick now (about damn time - I haven't had a floppy since before XP was released), but the default install is enormous and slow to install. I ended up using vLite to slim the install. After chopping out several gigabytes worth of language packs, printer drivers, and random legacy bullshit, the installer is much easier to stomach. What you take out seems to matter little to performance, except the things that are otherwise running on a default install that are no longer there. But, I'd rather just disable these items than rip them out completely - you never know what you'll need later. Frankly, I'd like to see an option to leave all but the most critical drivers and such on the DVD. Hard drive space is cheap, but it's not that cheap and I usually download the latest driver from the website anyways, if it's available (sidenote: this is why I hate the Linux way of including all drivers: I'd rather just download the newest version of what I need, and on Linux that usually means compiling kernel modules, which is a horrible, horrible pain the ass to do every time the damn kernel updates). It's really uncalled for to have 50 languages sitting on my computer, when I'm the only one that ever uses it, and I only speak one language. Especially when the languages alone are an extra gigabyte of data.

The first boot had me create a new user, which it oddly enough created as a system administrator. I apparently misunderstood how UAC works - you're still given total access, you just have to elevate to it; it's very similar to sudo. I know it's supposed to be a protected prompt that a bit of malicious software couldn't get around, but I suspect that at least one clever hack will be discovered for UAC in Vista's time, so I used the Microsoft Management Console to enable the Administrator account, and then lowered my user account to regular user privileges. By doing this, the UAC prompts not just for your permission, but the permission of an administrator, complete with a password box. Hey, it's not like Microsoft has actually inspires confidence in the security arena, so warranted or not I'm going to assume that Vista is a security sieve.

This actually works really well. Anywhere where you would see a normal UAC box, I now get a similar UAC box except with added username/password fields, and administrator access is required to get past it. And since SP1 reduced the cases where UAC pops up needlessly, I'm not terribly annoyed by it. After getting everything set the way I wanted it, I go days without seeing any prompts now - I don't tinker with the system setup daily.

I got some unexpected behavior when I started using a program that I knew for a fact wrote it's configuration files to the application folder - located in Program Files. I fully expected to need to elevate for this, but it ran perfectly. I was suspicious: the program was obviously saving my preferences somewhere, as even if I quit and relaunched the program all my settings were saved. I was sure that I had just totally misunderstood Vista's security functions, that I had just made the world's most annoying account that would still burn down the Windows install eventually. That is, until I looked in the application folder and saw that no new files had been created to save my preferences.

It took me the better part of a day to realize that Vista was redirecting accesses to Program Files at the file system level and it was going to a folder in my user account. This can cause some problems. Especially in World of Warcraft, which implements addons (plugins, using Lua as the scripting language) by having you copy their files into a designated folder in the game folder; the addon's data is saved into the game folder when you quit the game. This is (incidentally) one of the programs that will be burning in hell for abusing the Program Files folder. It's best to just not copy anything to the game folder at all and instead let Vista redirect all this into your special folder in your user account. It seems that the behavior isn't entirely clear with respect to what gets loaded if two copies of the same file exist, and while addons placed in the WoW directory by an administrator will work fine, they sometimes would not save or retrieve their data properly if you did this. But, it worked fantastically if you let Windows work it's magic: put the plugins in the appropriate place in your user account, and World of Warcraft won't know the difference. It's a clever feature and solves the problem of making you elevate too frequently. Most users won't even know it's there if they don't go mucking about with their file structure. I predict a nightmare if you have to support programs being worked around this way, though, and it might even have it's own security issues - I can think of several ways this could be used to cause all sorts of undesired behavior. You could, for example, just copy a malicious World of Warcraft addon to the proper place in the user's account folder. No need to get around UAC or modify the game files. But at least it wouldn't be able to hose the entire system, unless you're running World of Warcraft in the Administrator account for some reason.

At this point I should probably go ahead and specify how I set the Vista and the UI up just a bit. I left the 3D desktop turned on, because everyone likes "teh shiny." I did kill some of the background services, which is necessary for every version of Windows (why in the hell do I need the wireless network service running if I don't have any wireless cards?). I installed UltraMon, because dual monitors are like, you know, some new technology that Vista doesn't fully support yet. Seriously now: can I get a task bar on my secondary monitor? It's only been requested since roughly 1995 or so. I also disabled that "Windows Sidebar" crap. Listen guys, my desktop is buried 5 layers deep in various windows. I don't even want to know how many icons are sitting back there on my desktop - I don't use them, they're actually hidden so they don't even render. I can't see my desktop beyond the first five minutes of usage when I power on in the morning. For years I didn't have a desktop background - it was just black. I do actually have one set right's black and blue. Incidentally, I had to use UltraMon for that as well, because once again Vista does not account for the secondary monitor well (though, neither does Linux - I'll probably make a separate journal someday about the various failings of Windows and Linux with multiple monitors). Gadgets, widgets, applets, whatever you want to call them: they suck, they're worthless, and they waste resources because I can't interact with or see them.

Anyways, back to the subject, because I'm a desktop real estate whore I don't use Quicklaunch and I hide most of the Notification Tray icons to get more space on my taskbar. And much to my disappointment, Vista still can't hide all Notification Tray icons properly, a bug that's been successfully carried over from Windows XP. Although, at least it's different icons it can't hide this time. This time it's SpeedFan, which I use to control my fans because the same people who designed Window's multimonitor features also designed my motherboard's fan speed controls (ie. there aren't any options, and the defaults are retarded). I believe this is because SpeedFan has the gall to update its tooltip once every few seconds to show the temperature or something like that.

Now that I've complained, let me elaborate on what's been done right. Let me just say that this is the first time Since Windows 95 that my operating system appearance has changed significantly. I changed back to one of the classic schemes in Windows XP, and disabled the Themes service. The fact that I didn't immediately decide to turn off Vista's theme means that it did a lot better than Microsoft's last attempt at pretty: Luna just reminded me of a certain company's child playtoys. So Vista earns a few imaginary points there. Second, you may notice that without ready access to Desktop icons, or Quicklaunch, I have only one option for launching programs: the Start Menu. In that regard, I like the changes made to the Start Menu. I customize the hell out of it in order to cram more icons onto it, and change what's shown, but I use the menu in a way most people don't these days. Which is to say I use it the way it was originally intended: to start programs. Also, the fact that All Programs now launches in a pseudo-window that I can scroll with my mousewheel is a godsend (and about damn time - the previous scrolling or double-column solution was absolute shit). It's also nice that I can hit a key to jump to a particular letter in the list, although having the focus still be in the Start Search box when I click All Programs is damn stupid; I'm sure this will now be incorporated into the next 5 versions of Windows, and it will piss me off every time.

The right hand side of the Start Menu functions in much the same way it did in Windows XP. You can still put things like a link to My Documents (properly redirected to another hard disk, thanks), My Computer, and My Music on it. There's also an entry with your user name, which opens up to a sort of home folder (Those who do not understand Unix...). That's a nice addition, though since I show hidden files mine's filled all the various crap that Windows keeps around in a user's folder. Luckily, I need to get to these hidden places often enough that I consider this a feature. You'll also notice some icons that look to be shortcuts, but will just throw "Access Denied" error messages when you try to open them. This is frustrating, because they have names like "Start Menu" and "Application Data" where you'd expect to be able to muss with that sort of thing. The thing is, these are links so that programs that hardcode these paths can be redirected to wherever Microsoft has moved them now. I suppose no one thought that the users might want to know where those went as well (actually moved to AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu because that's sooo much easier to find). Until I figured this out, I was rather frustrated by getting "Access Denied" from all the places I really needed to get to in order to restore my program's running settings (yep, saved my Windows user account).

As any real Windows user knows, the only thing that really matters is performance (please add your own flavor of sarcastic tone to that), and for far too long Vista lacked it noticeably more so than any other version of Windows. SP1 was supposed to correct a lot of the performance bottlenecks, but promises are made to be broken. It's fine on the desktop using normal apps, even with the 3D desktop turned on. It really seems just as good as XP or Linux in that respect (note: my Windows installs don't generally have 100 processes running in the background like that old lady's Dell, so they really are on par with Linux desktops here). One area where Vista really takes a step back is in hard disk usage, though. I'll hear my drive randomly start seeking for no reason I can discern, even with the indexing services turned off. And it'll start doing that at the worst possible times, like in the middle of a Ranked Arena match in World of Warcraft. This wouldn't matter except is seems that Vista's new IO scheduler is a flaming pile of crap.

Anytime the hard disk reads games stops rendering entirely, and I still can't play games while people are pulling files from my computer over the network; something that was possible when I was using XP. I know that there's already been one issue related to network performance when sound is playing (that was patched, supposedly). I assume I can play audio while doing network transfers - I haven't had any trouble doing that, anyways. All these problems stink of being related, and of scheduling and priority conflicts. All in all, if there's anything that's really hurting Vista's reputation in the performance field, it's crap like this. Combined with the frequent hard disk access, the system feels a lot slower than it should entirely too often. Generally, once Vista's done molesting the hard disk, everything moves right along just fine. But, going from 80 to 0 FPS in a split second because Vista is on a whim rifling through your hard disk for no damn reason is really infuriating.

Vista is also somewhat slower about games in general. With NVIDIA cards, the difference doesn't seem to be that bad. I don't have any modern ATI cards to test with, but benchmarking site HardOCP did some tests that showed that ATI still did poorly in Vista compared to XP. Either way, with the 7900GS and 8800GT I tested with Vista was pretty much always slower, but only by a small margin. I'm willing to live with it, as Vista does do some nice things for my games.

It's not just the eye candy that makes a compositing desktop nice. In XP, if I run a game in Windowed mode, I must ensure that the game stays on the primary monitor. If any part of the game is drawn on my second monitor, the frame rates will drop off drastically, leaving the game unplayable. With Vista, there appears to be some performance hit for moving a game to the second monitor, but it's not nearly so ridiculously slow as it was in XP. It's playable at least. Vista also has no trouble rendering the game to a scaled thumbnail such as those shown on the taskbar when you hover the mouse over it's taskbar entry, or in the "Flip3D" feature, where I fully expected both to just leave me with a black box like everything Windows does with video or games. The neato transparency effects also work if you put another window on top of the game. All in all, this is the first time 3D accelerated games seem to be able to play nice with the rest of the system - it's nice to see, especially if you happen to be one of those people that plays your MMOs windowed so you can reference the internet as you play. Playing games full screen still kills the nice compositing desktop thing (it just turns into Areo Basic), but you'd never notice that unless you had dual monitors, and if it's full screen you can't easily switch to the second monitor anyways. And none of the graphical UI niceties I listed will help your score in Team Fortress 2 or anything. I did try it windowed across 2 monitors, though; just for kicks. It does actually work.

Also of note is the sound system. While I have never personally used anything besides the audio controllers on the motherboard, I know a lot of people were personally offended by the fact that their super expensive hardware decoding audio cards would retain the "super expensive" part but not the "hardware decoding" part. Honestly, the few times I ever played with a real hardware audio card and surround speakers I wasn't that impressed. Yes, it's loud, but you know what? I still can't tell what direction anyone's coming from anyways. The whole directional audio thing never worked for me. I do have 5.1 speakers, and they are set up correctly, I just don't think that 5 speakers accurately emulates what I hear. On the other hand, trying to balance the game volume with the volume of my friends talking to me via voice chat frequently leaves my ears ringing. Vista fixes that nicely by reworking the sound system so I can control the volume of individual applications, irregardless of whether or not they give me a volume control. I keep Firefox muted most of the time, and keep Ventrilo set a bit higher than everything else. Thankfully, it will remember where you set the volume for each application. I'll gladly take the tradeoff here.

So, what's the takeaway from this wall of text? Vista's really a mixed bag, but not as horrible as I once thought. On the one hand, it's got all the standard crap you hate about Windows, plus a lot of it's own baggage. Microsoft really needs to iron out their issues with IO scheduling, and drag the other half of it's UI into 1999 (the theme is nice, but doesn't fix a whole lot, really). On the other hand, it does add some nifty features, especially since I've recently acquired a World of Warcraft addiction, like half the internet (I started in February and already have a 70 rogue about half epiced, as well as a few alts at various levels). For games that you play in a more traditional manner (such as shooters or RTS) the graphical sugar that makes MMOs nice only slows down the frame rates. I've also got a few "out of left field" type of bugs. At the moment, when I shut down Windows it does everything properly, but somehow fails to actually power down the computer. I must hold the power button myself. It was not like this until I started fiddling with the sleep modes and trying to get it to sleep properly (something this desktop has never done reliably). Now I can't fix it. The first thing I said when I noticed it was "Not this shit again!" I think I've fought this bug on every version since Windows 98. Can we pleasefortheloveoftechseverywhere turn off the damn computer properly one of these days? There's been no showstoppers, though. I have not had a single blue screen or lockup, even when I'm flogging my computer for all it's worth encoding, compiling, and a million other little things at once. That, I do believe is a first in a Microsoft operating system. In the end, I think the product reflects the development process: it's got multiple personalities. Some parts are very well done and thought out. Features were added that just make sense for what people do with their computers. Somebody actually used Windows, and they cared. Others seem to have been given no thought at all. The same mistakes were made, things weren't taken far enough, or great ideas were botched by little details. Judging from what I've read about Vista's development process that sounds about right.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I Want a Videogame 1

I'm looking for a game. A very specific kind of game. I want an MMO, but I don't want to click in a UI to fight. I want to fight - I want an FPS. And I want to be able to level up my abilities: I become more accurate, run faster, jump higher, and so on. I want an RPG. I'm looking for an MMOFPSRPG. Never let it be said that I have low standards.

Last month, I got an invite to play the Tabula Rasa beta. I had signed up for it a long time ago and totally forgotten about it. Frankly, the idea for the game is something I'm burning to play. So I jumped at the chance to give this a try. Hours of downloading later, I started the game, logged in, and the game promptly locked up. It's been doing this for weeks now. Apparently, it fails to make it's connections to the server properly (something about my university network), and just sits there indefinitely. There's a ten page thread on the forums detailing the issue full of people with the same problem, and no responses from anyone representing the developers.

I'm a bit disappointed. I feel that this could be the game I'm waiting for - an MMO I can actually stick with for a little while. But, I'm not even going to consider buying the game until I'm sure that it'll work. The waiting might just kill me.

In the meantime, I'm borrowing a friend's Hellgate: London beta. It's not an MMO - at least not technically. But, it's kinda what I'm looking for. Honestly, I enjoy the game, but it feels simplified in every respect. When shooting a gun, there's no reloading and your ammo is infinite. When swinging swords your actions don't seem to be connected to results. I swing the sword and it passes through a bad guy. A split second later I'll see the blood and a death animation. It would actually look pretty good if all that synced up properly. But, it's still pretty simple. There's no way to make the melee acrobatic, and I don't think there's even different hitzones for guns (ie. headshots don't do more damage than shooting someone in the foot). But, at least it's kinda close, and it's interesting in the meantime.

Of course, Hellgate's got it's share of bugs. In fact, considering that the game's supposed to be launching on October 31 it's got more than it's share. I've been disconnected a few times, and the client has crashed twice. Both times the character I was playing was made inaccessible. They fixed the characters in the last patch, but it still feels like they're going to be pushing it to make their launch.

I'm waiting for the Huxley beta to drop - I have high hopes for that one, but I'm in for a long wait on that one, I don't think it's due out until next year sometime.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I'm Curious About the RIAA's Methods

News swirling around about the RIAA adding yet more colleges to their shitlist has me wondering exactly how they determine who's who by IP addresses. I mean, I suppose some schools assign an IP per student, and keep the names on file so they know who got what, but not every school owns large blocks of IP addresses. Take for example Southern Polytechnic State University, where I attend.

The first time you plug a computer into the residential side of the network (it's separated from the campus network), you get an IP address form the DHCP server. This IP is in the rage of 172.16.x.x, with the third section corresponding to your living complex and the last section being totally random. From this point on, as long as the computer stays within that housing complex, you're always assigned the same IP. The system does this my remembering the MAC address and associating it with a private IP. Change your MAC address, and you get a new IP address.

This makes me question how the RIAA would go about suing students at a school like this, since all the IPs handed out are private. First of all there's only one public IP for everyone - you can't tell who's who from outside the network. In order to specifically finger people, they'd have to be able to monitor traffic from behind the school's routers. I wouldn't put it past the school to allow it; I very much doubt the university's role as a beacon of liberty and enlightenment these days.

But even if the network is monitored, it will only tell you that some individual is pirating music, not who. Remember - the network will allow anyone with physical access to a port to get an IP address. You don't have to sign up or give a name. Even if they keep logs all they get is an IP address and it's associated MAC address. Naturally, my MAC address is always spoofed so I can get a new IP. The best they could get from here is what housing complex you live in, which would narrow it down to somewhere around 250 - 400 people.

But what do I know? Maybe the RIAA has some magic NAT-busting technology that allows them to tell exactly who's doing what from behind that single IP address. If they do, I do wish they'd share it with the rest of us. It's a pain in the ass to share files when you can't accept incoming connections.

User Journal

Journal Journal: I'll Not Weep for Any ISP

With the news that Time Warner is now packet shaping it's network, I figured this might be a timely time to examine some of the motivations behind such a move. Obviously, they're looking to throttle P2P usage to something the network can handle. They're not the first, and they won't be the last ISP to try to put bit torrent under with a stupid piece of hardware that delays sending packets. I still think that packet shapers in general are about the stupidest damn idea I've ever heard of. I base my experience off the one that my campus uses to avoid paying for a reasonable internet line. There, if your packet isn't HTTP, it may take a couple thousand milliseconds for a packet to reach you, if it reaches you at all before the connection times out. Granted, that a worst case scenario, with incompetent admins to boot, but I still think that the money spent on a packet shaper would have been much better spend trying to deliver packets faster, not slower.

But I digress. The simple fact is that there's no reason ISPs can't handle Bit Torrent traffic. I'm paying insane amounts of money every month for a measly 1.5 Mbps connection, and most of the time transfer only a few GB per month (it's mostly my parents using that connection, and they have little use for P2P apps or streaming video). Even if a small percentage of users are costing more money than they're worth, as ISPs claim, the profit margins on the vast majority of their customers are enormous. There should be money in there somewhere to upgrade the network, right? I certainly think so.

But, barring an ISP actually digging into it's own profits to cover the cost of running their service (god, are you mad? What business does that?!), the government has given them billions in tax breaks and incentives to upgrade their networks. That's right, we the people paid for lit fiber to every home, ample bandwidth, an ethernet connection for every child, wireless access points as far as the eye can see, tubes and trucks, and oh so much more. "But wait," I hear you say, "we got none of that, and oh so much less!" And no, no we didn't. Chances are your telephone company and cable company took that money and laughed all the way to bank. No fiber for you. Ladies and gentlemen, "we the people" got boned.

What's worse is that the government didn't even care. In fact, they've made the same deal over and over again, with the same result every time. If I didn't know any better, I'd say someone's getting a kickback somewhere. The only ISP I know that has a serious plan to upgrade their network to fiber is Verizon, and they're doing it at great expense, with great urgency, and to the great dismay of their shareholders. With great expense, because like all the other companies that got government money for upgrades, they blew it elsewhere while their network rotted. With great urgency, because their current network is incapable of handling even the measly service they now sell. Oh, their shareholders are burning their ass over all the capital outlay. Wow, life sure is painful when you take other's people's money and procrastinate for years, isn't it?

As some point all the ISPs are going to have to upgrade their networks. Their copper lines aren't going to last forever, and they'll slowly die, gasping for subscribers as everyone leaves them for the companies that had the foresight to upgrade. If a couple of these companies die in the process, you'll not catch me saying we should be in any hurry to save them. In fact, it would do my heart good to see a couple of the large ISPs go under, leaving chaos in large sections of the United States where they were granted the monopoly rights they abused so badly. No, it'd be a fitting justice, I say, if a couple of executives ended up in jail for gross mismanagement.

Companies like AT&T, Bellsouth (oh wait, they're AT&T now too!), Verizon, and SBC are a cancer. They sell slow, expensive connections, and then throttle on top of that. They spend more time, effort, and money killing municipal wireless than they ever did upgrading their networks. They're complicit with the RIAA, they hand over our information to the government, they steal our money, they weave contracts with terms so hostile it'd give a lawyer an orgasm, they abuse their government granted monopolies, they make questionable advertising claims, and then they have the absolute gall to complain that someone might not be using their service as intended.


Wireless Networking

Journal Journal: On Linux Wireless (And Slashdot's Cool) 2

Early Friday morning I commented on a Slashdot article about the new version of Ubuntu being announced. Frankly, I'm impressed with the strides the Ubuntu people have made in making desktop Linux workable for the masses, and I said so. I also mentioned that the only complaint I could really come up with was that wireless networking was still not quite up to par for most people. I only mentioned this because I found such a complaint insignificant compared with what I was complaining about a year and a half ago. So props to the Ubuntu people then; they've made lots of progress.

But, it would seem that lots of people picked up on my wireless issues. In fact I was downright surprised to get no less than five responses either asking for more information on the issue, or giving me suggestions on how to get my stuff working. I didn't get anything working out of that, but I did learn a bit, so Slashdot has basically just renewed my faith in it's awesomeness. Anyways, I thought I'd lay out exactly what I've been working on the last month.

The Original Setup

Originally, I had a Toshiba Portege 3500 tablet PC that I picked up for free. It was broken, but turns out it just need a hard disk, an expense I couldn't pass up just to get a free tablet. It does not, however, have an internal CD-ROM. There was apparently a portable CD-ROM that connected through the PCMCIA slot at some point, but I've not been able to track one down. Of course, the darn thing won't boot anything through it's USB 2 ports. So, I also bought and adapter to connect the new laptop hard disk to my desktop computer, and installed an old copy of MS-DOS 6.22 on a 2 GB partition, copied my Windows XP CD to that partition. The cool thing is, I can now put the hard drive back in the laptop, boot to DOS, and then run an executable (i386/WINNT.EXE, if I remember correctly), and the installer will come up. It required a little bit of DOS knowledge I had long since neglected, such as setting up himem.sys and smartdrv (disk caching), but it worked.

Once I had Windows installed, it was all pretty much smooth sailing. Everything seemed to work fine, only I couldn't connect to my school's wireless network. It turns out that the wireless card in the laptop only supports WEP encryption, and my school wisely uses WPA encryption. So I bought a USB wireless card that uses the Ralink RT73 chipset, which was said to be Linux compatible, and had support for newer encryption standards. It worked great with SecureW2, the supplicant my school chose to handle encryption and authentication. It's roughly comparable to xsupplicant or maybe wpasupplicant on Linux.

Now, With New Linux Flavor!

Of course, I had to format the laptop when Windows started doing odd things, and using the same steps did not yield working results (damn Window's inconsistencies!), so I figured now was as good a time as any to play with Linux on it. I had been considering this since I bought the "Linux Compatible" wireless card anyways. I actually spent a good bit of time attempting to get the install working from DOS in the same manner I did for Windows. It turns out that while there are some tools that can help with this, I was not able to figure it out after a month of trying. So instead I hooked up the laptop hard drive to my desktop again, and installed Ubuntu on it on my desktop. I then moved the drive back to my laptop. This worked well enough; I had to rewrite some config files but it did work and I was very happy to note that it detected all my hardware beautifully.

Then I hooked in the USB dongle. It was detected, and immediately associated with my neighbor's unprotected access point. Nice! Working support, as advertised on the box! Ubuntu pops up telling me I should update my install before I get owned by a script kiddie, and I start the process of downloading and installing something like 120 updated packages. I go get something to eat and when I come back everything's done. I restart the laptop, and I've never been able to replicate my first success with Ubuntu's built-in driver again. Ever. Ever after reinstalling.

About That RT73 Driver

It turns out, of course, that the "rt73usb" driver is actually an old version of the open source driver project by Serialmonkey, which deals with support for man Ralink wireless chipsets. This included driver version in Ubuntu is known to be broken by the Ubuntu people. Of course new versions of this driver from CVS (the only way to get the driver) haven't worked properly since December 30, 2006. It's still an extremely beta driver. Unfortunately, I'm not very proficient with Linux yet, and haven't figured out how to pull old versions of the driver from CVS, and didn't really want to mess with compiling it, so I didn't. Instead, I went and got the manufacturer's driver for the stick. Reading through some information about it, it doesn't support the Linux Wireless Extensions (wext). This is an API that has become the standard for wireless management tools. Tools such as xsupplicant, wpasupplicant, and so on generally require either specific chipsets and drivers, or that your driver support wext in order for the magic to happen. The manufacturer instead expects you to use their configuration program, which supports WPA in various configurations, none of which are vigorous enough to connect to my school's network with. So that pretty much kills all the native Linux drivers, at least for my purposes.

What I ended up doing is blacklisting rt73usb, installing ndiswrapper, and using the same driver I used on my Windows setup. This seems to work pretty well, it will connect to unencrypted or WEP access points. I can't test WPA because I don't have an access point that supports it to test with, though. It will, however, hotplug beautifully. That's right, using a Windows driver though ndiswrapper to run a USB wireless adapter actually doesn't cause a monstrous rip in the space-time continuum, which both surprised and disappointed me.

Just for kicks, I upgraded to the 7.04 (feisty) beta, and attempted to do some work there. The Serialmonkey driver is not SMP-friendly, and apparently can possibly cause all sorts of issues. Ubuntu's kernels are all compiled with SMP enabled now. Of course, I ran into one of these issues where the computer would lock up anytime the stick was connected. Attempting to blacklist rt73usb in 7.04 just like I did in 6.10 didn't work, so I got pretty much nothing done. It does raise the question: has the driver been changed? Because I didn't used to have this problem. I read a launchpad page (which I can no longer find) that said they would not have this driver updated in time for shipping 7.04, so either they changed their mind or the newer kernel is bringing out flaws that were previously unexpressed.

The Sooper-Secure Wireless Network

My school provides a nice list of specifications that apparently aren't very complete. At least, I was using all kinds of things that aren't listed. They also provide a setup guide for Mac OS X, which proved to actually be more useful for me. The school doesn't give any instructions for Linux. In case they take those pages down or something, the specifications say this:

Authentication Method: 802.1x
Authentication Type: EAP-TTLS
Encryption Type: WPA
Key Style: TKIP
Certificate Authority: Thawte
Domain:(leave blank)

I also get a username and password. They left out the fact that the authentication is done through PAP, and the specific certificate they're using, which happens to the Thawte Premium Server CA, which I found located at /etc/ssl/certs/Thawte_Premium_Server_CA.pem. I know what cert they're using only because I was reading the output from xsupplicant and noticed it complaining that I hadn't specified that root CA.

Network-Manager Sure Is Nice

I fancied myself pretty swift when I figured out that I could just use ndiswrapper to get around my issues, and moved on actually configuring wpasupplicant (I tried it first). Of course, being the lazy person that I am, I really didn't want to have to research how to write the configuration myself, so I decided to install Network-Manager, a GNOME application that will configure all this stuff for you. How nice, except it seemed to break everything. My loopback interface quit coming up, my network interfaces seemed to go up and down randomly, and I couldn't scan for a list of access points anymore. Turns out I hadn't configred it correctly; it took posts by Knuckles and WaZiX to straighten my ass out. Doesn't matter anyways though, because Network-Manger currently doesn't support phase2 authentication (at least in the version Ubuntu is shipping), which I apparently need because my network does it's authentication though PAP.

Config File, We Meet Again

It took me quite a while to generate a configuration file for wpasupplicant, and even after hours of tweaking and walking back and forth between my school's network and my room (which is not in range of the AP), I still couldn't get it to do anything interesting. I thought maybe wpasupplicant didn't support my school's decidedly odd setup (I'm under the impression that WPA with TKIP is kinda unusual, as TKIP is usually a WEP thing) was messing things up. So I went googling and found xsupplicant instead. I wrote up a config file, and lo and behold, I got authenticated! But it still won't move any data back and forth, so I get no IP and no love. A bit more Googling tells me that you can apparently run both xsupplicant and wpasupplicant at the same time, and it may be required in order to get my setup fully working. To do this, you write your full xsupplicant config, and then just specify your SSID and WPA-EAP to wpasupplicant, and you're good to go. This would seem to be on the right track as I got "AUTHENTICATED" status in xsupplicant, but wpasupplicant keeps getting some error about failing a 4-way handshake when trying to set up the encryption. Going back to the same page, you apparently need to use a -W switch when running xsupplicant, so it will provide keying material to wpasupplicant (whatever the hell that means). Of course, I can't find this switch documented anywhere, it doesn't seem show up in my version of xsupplicant anyways. Either I need a newer version or an older version, but I can't tell which.

Where We End Up

So, basically where I'm at now is I don't know if I even have my config files set up correctly, and I can't find the command switch I need. I still don't understand why wpasupplicant isn't capable of anything on it's own, or why xsupplicant apparently needs wpasupplicant to handle WPA encryption. It may be that I just can't do what I want to do because I'm using ndiswrapper. I don't really know how well we can map those Windows drivers into Linux, but it seems to at least almost work. I'd love to try a native driver, but I'll probably have to wait for further development for that one.

I'm probably going to go talk to some people in Ubuntu's IRC channel at some point, someone in there probably can give a next step to try anyways. I hate doing this sort of thing through IRC, though. Chat rooms move entirely too quickly for me to track who I'm talking to currently, and they're not the best medium for long-winded explanations like this from long-winded people like me. They also don't transfer config files gracefully. But, apparently all the good help is hanging out there, not on the forums, so I'll give it a shot.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Beating on Wikipedia

I suppose that in a way it's a good thing that Wikipedia garners attention from the mainstream press at all. At the very least, it demonstrates the impact it's had on the world. It's probably one of the more accessable examples of open source, and it's a damn fine example, really.

I do consider Wikipedia to be an "open source" encyclopedia. It behaves in much the same way as any other open source project and encounters many of the same challenges. Any open source project has the possibility of allowing bad code in. Wikipedia is no different. The expectation is that other coders, or writers as the case may be, will find these mistakes and fix them. In this case the infringing article was removed when it was found.

I think the Big Deal surrounding Wikipedia lately has more to do with just a bit of "culture shock." In the minds of many people, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and as such is inherently trusted. I'm going to disregard the fact that this line of reasoning is inherently flawed; suffice it to say that the public at large will generally trust whatever you write in an encyclopedia. Then there's Wikipedia. It's something different entirely, really. Not really an encyclopedia of the kind Joe Average knows about. Yes, it looks like one in many respects but it rarely behaves like one. The fact that it's open source changes things significantly. But Joe cares about none of this, he's just happy to have an encyclopedia with an article on virtually everything.

This is where the culture shock comes in. The first few times Joe uses Wikipedia as a source, it works our pretty well. Then he stumbles across something wrong. Well, as any good Wiki user knows, you edit the entry. Joe doesn't edit the entry. Instead he gets all bent out of shape because suddenly this trustworthy source of his is handing out wrong information. Joe and a good portion of the rest of the world has misunderstood just how wikis and open source in general works. And now that they're figuring it out, they're finding it's not quite a utopian way of doing things. Personally, I still think it's a better way of doing things, but it does require some user partisipation. And, it does require you to think about what you're reading. Heaven forbid it, surely.

Now, in the above paragraphs replace "Joe" with "John Seigenthaler," the guy who got libeled in a Wikipedia article. He's pissed, and everyone else is surprised. "You mean anyone can add an article to Wikipedia? Holy crap, I don't like that! That would be what every frickin' page on the site says, guys. From any article on the site, the first line says "From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit." What, you didn't think we were joking, did you Joe?

I'm fully convinced that many people who end up on Wikipedia pages got there from a Google search and never even took the time to examine their source. Not that it would have helped any, it takes something like this to pound it into many people's thick skulls. This is a great demonstation of what's expected from the users in an open source environment.

I'm not knocking John Seigenthaler for being pissed over the fact that someone would write the content. I am knocking everyone else who keeps bitching about the very aspects that make Wikipedia better. Yes, it's open source, anyone can change or make articles. Read accordingly, or don't read at all -- I don't really care. Just -- for the sake of everyone else -- be quiet. You will never find an encyclopedia with more information. Some may call it trivia, but I've needed some pretty obscure stuff and Wikipedia has rarely let me down. That's not something any other encyclopedia can give you.

The Internet

Journal Journal: The .XXX TLD: Quit Your Bitching 1

The below was originally supposed to go into a discussion as a response to someone's reasoning against the .XXX TLD, but it got very long and wasn't really the topic at hand anyways. So now it's a journal entry. My first journal entry on Slashdot - that's a landmark or something in nerdom.
First and most important: Who mandates it? Nobody has authority over the interwebbernet

The simple answer is, you let the registrars enforce it. Put it in the TOS: "If you host XXX content on this shiny new .com, we'll hand your name over to law enforcement and cancel your account. We'll also have your balls. You should buy a .XXX instead." Of course, there's a bit more to it than that. To enforce this, make a complaints form. One field of the form is to put the full URI of the offending page. The other field is a place for user comments. You can disregard the user comments, they're just there to let angry users with an agenda bitch. When the user hits the submit button, download a copy of the URI and put it in a database along with the other information. If you get more than say 3 complaints, check your cached copies and see if you've got an obvious offender. Places like Network Solutions already show pictures of websites when you do a WHOIS lookup. Try looking up on it.

Oh, and it's intarweb. Gosh, I thought everyone knew that.

What about a national geographic-style site that would include topless women from some tribe in africa?

This could be handled via the complaints system. User complains to registrar, registrar examines sites and could suggest that National Geographic might want to invest in domain for some of their content. Of course, if you've just got a bunch of complaining prudes then you put on a reject list and when people try to submit it, they're told to sodmize themselves. Sure, this means that some "grey area" sites might remain on .com while others are in .XXX, but that's not really the purpose (inconsistency in grey area sites). The purpose is to put on instead.

What about a site selling underwear as well as other non-questionable content? Like Amazon.

Then they might want to invest in and to split up their content. Most companies own multiple variations of their domain anyways, and since the cost of registering a new one is minimal, it's not too much to ask. Also, and underwear ad isn't exactly the same thing Again, the purpose is to move the most obvious crap out of the regular namespace.

What about webcam sites where people are free to be as nude or not-nude as they like?

This is an easy one: ony non-nude cams on If you want nudity on your cam, you register at which is owned by the same company. If you can't be assed to abide by those rules, don't worry. We'll move your webcam for you.

What about informative sites teaching kids about their own body? (clitical, jackinworld, etc)

Use one of those warnings where you have to click ok to get in. Besides all that, I highly doubt your average hormone pumped teen is really intrested in an educational expaination of how sex works. Also, places like this are a better way to figure out who sex works and a porn site (believe it or not, not every orifice was intended for sex), so stop bitching. You have choices - completely getting rid of sex on the internet isn't one of them.

What about non comercial personal pages that include nudes

Don't host nudes on your personal or other non commercial website unless it's an XXX TLD. Again, you can buy two domain names. They're not expensive, Yahoo! will sell you one for 5 bucks.
I'll admit I've got motives for seeing the .XXX TLD go in. I'm really tired of getting porn results mixed in with my google searches. Image searches are espicially bad about this because porn sites have started masking images with more normal names and such.

And I'm not a prude either. I don't want porn completely gone from the internet, I just want to be able to control my experience online. It also has one other benefit: I don't have to listen to people bitch anymore. "I found porn in our Temporay Internet Files, Johhny's been looking at porn!" Actually, Johnny's just been doing Google image searches, but he's fucked anyways - his parents don't know the difference. I've seen things similar to this before. One kid I know got in trouble for looking at porn because his parents recieved a pornographic spam. The not-too-bright parents assumed the mail was generated by their kid surfing porn and pretty much banned him from the internet. And yes, they still use AOL to this day, and still haven't got a clue how the internet works. Granted .XXX doesn't stop this problem in particular, but I can only imagine that punishment would've been death had porn been found on the family's hard disk.

I must address the crowd claiming that a .XXX domain just legitizes porn. Yes, it does. And you can just quit bitching. We're way past the point of stopping porn altogether and frankly I'm not sure I'd want it entirely eradicated. That would be too close to a China-like solution. This argument puts you in the worst possible situation: you don't like it, but you can't do anything about it because meerly acknowledging that it exists would legitimize it.

This is why the rest of the world wants to take control of the DNS system from the United States: we're too busy being whiny, bitchy, little pussies to do something about it. Trial a .XXX TLD. If we can't make it work, trash it or make it optional. It wouldn't be the first "special" TLD that's become useless. I consider most every TLD added recently to be quite useless.

Oh, and existing porn sites have six months to a year to buy a .XXX domain. Their exact domain in the .com section will be reserved for them in .XXX. They may keep their .com and have it redirect if they want (after all, blocking software can still block .XXX even if you end up there through a redirect). After that time has expired, your name is no longer reserved and you can be fined for not following the rules. And the fine gets bigger each time we catch you. NOTHING on your porn site should be accessable through a .com even if you're just using it as an image server. Images will load as well from a .XXX domain as a .com.

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Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984