A new beginning

Posting here has been a huge learning experience for me, what with this being my first blog, even though posts haven’t been as frequent or as top-notch as I would have liked them to be. The blog has lacked a unifying theme as well. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed writing for what little readership I’ve had.

Things are about to change (hopefully :p). I will henceforth be writing at -

sn0v.wordpress.com

Get GNOME Shell on ATI chipsets + Ubuntu Oneiric

Like this post? Find more on my new blog here.

Ubuntu 11.10 (codenamed Oneiric Ocelot) was released a few weeks back. Multiple reviews are available on the internet about how Unity (its default desktop environment) has been polished further among various other features, so I’m not going to go into depth on that here.

While a ton of people have complained about Unity, I’ve gotten used to it during the time that I’ve used Natty. However, I was drawn by Gnome Shell as well, and the fact that Ubuntu Oneiric has made it easier than ever to install it pushed me to try it out.

I’ve been using Gnome shell for about a week now, both in Fedora 15 as well as Ubuntu 11.10, and I’ve grown to like it just a little bit more than Unity, for whatever reason (IMHO, it just looks better, take the top panel for instance).

To install Gnome Shell, run the following command in a terminal -

$ sudo apt-get install gnome-shell gnome-tweak-tool

Gnome tweak tool is a package that allows you to customize Ubuntu’s Gnome shell environment to change the theme from Ambiance to Adwaita (start it up, then go to Theme > GTK+ theme). This simply integrates better with Gnome shell from what I’ve heard.

For most users, logging out and then logging back in (while selecting Gnome) in the LightDM screen should suffice. However, the ordeal is not yet over for ATI users.

Since the default open source driver for ATI chipsets that ships with Ubuntu Oneiric has issues working with Gnome Shell, we have two options at hand -

  • Install the latest proprietary drivers from the ATI website (Catalyst 11.10 or later)
  • Install bleeding edge open source drivers from the xorg-edgers PPA

I will be detailing both methods below.

MY SPECS – Dell Studio 1558 with an ATI Mobility Radeon HD5470 running Ubuntu 11.10 (with the latest updates as of 02 Nov 2011).

NOTE – The following techniques assume that you have not modified your base Ubuntu video drivers in any way (i.e. you have a vanilla install with respect to graphics).

While this guide worked for me, it might not produce equally awesome results for you. Although the risk of messing up your existing install is minimal, please back up any important data before proceeding.

Method I – Installing the latest proprietary drivers (credit goes to this site)

This technique worked fine, but did not seem to resolve video tearing issues for me.
Before you start -

Install the prerequisite packages:

$ sudo apt-get install build-essential cdbs fakeroot dh-make debhelper debconf libstdc++6 dkms libqtgui4 wget execstack libelfg0 dh-modaliases

If you are using the x86_64 architecture (64 bit), be sure to install “ia32-libs” before proceeding!

$ sudo apt-get install ia32-li$ sudo apt-get install ia32-libsbs

Download the latest Catalyst package: (this contains both the 32 bit and the 64 bit installation candidates):

$ cd ~/; mkdir catalyst11.10; cd catalyst11.10/
$ wget http://www2.ati.com/drivers/linux/ati-driver-installer-11-10-x86.x86_64.run

Create .deb packages:

$ sudo sh ./ati-driver-installer-11-10-x86.x86_64.run --buildpkg Ubuntu/oneiric

Install the .debs:

$ sudo dpkg -i fglrx*.deb

For troubleshooting any further issues, look at the aforementioned guide for further details, especially the section on video tearing.

Method II – Installing the latest open source drivers (credit goes to this thread)

This is the technique I’m currently using, and I’m not experiencing video tearing of any sort.

IMPORTANT – As of 02 Nov 2011, this technique WILL break Unity. A bugfix is on the way, but in the meanwhile, you’ll be restricted to using GNOME Shell or an alternative DE.

Add the following ppa to your software sources by opening up Ubuntu Software Centre and going to Edit > Software Sources > Other Software > Add

ppa:xorg-edgers/ppa

Then run the following commands in a terminal window

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

For each technique, restart X for the changes to take effect. This can be done by logging out and then back in.

Good luck, and have fun playing around with GNOME Shell!

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My Hackintosh Experiment – Round One goes to Apple

I’m currently home for a few days (until this Sunday to be precise) and I thought I’d pass the time by trying to hackintosh my Dell Studio 1558.

Now I know that it’s easy to go with hardware that’s known to work, for example Asus and Gigabyte boards among others listed on tonymacx86, and laptops aren’t generally known to play nice with Hackintosh installs (the erstwhile Dell Inspiron Mini 10 being a notable exception). Nevertheless, I backed up my data and decided to give it a try.

After a few hours of work I got Snow Leopard (10.6) running on it, but with no support for graphics, audio and wireless among others. I used iBoot+MultiBeast, developed by the genuises at the aforementioned tonymacx86, and a guide I’d come across a while ago at Lifehacker.

Running any combo updates however, kept leading to kernel panics all over the place. Instead of rocking an outdated Snow Leopard notebook I’ve chosen to reinstall Ubuntu at the moment, although I may return to hackintoshinSteve Jobs tributeg in the future when I have more time at hand.

With close to two days devoted to the hackintosh project and no significant results to boot, I’d have to say round one goes to the folks at Cupertino.

On a more serious note though, I was deeply bereaved by the death of Steve Jobs earlier this week. 56 is way too young to die these days. And although an 80 GB iPod Classic is the only Apple product I’ve ever owned, I was a huge fan of his zen philosophy of design. May his soul rest in peace.

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The 50-50 deal

So our college’s annual cultural fest has started again, this time in its newest edition – Festember XI. And it seems to be shaping up pretty well, at least when compared to last year’s edition, which was a train wreck according to popular opinion (including mine). College fests mean all sorts of food stalls that satisfy any cuisine one may crave, from North Indian chaats and South Indian idli-dosa to pizzas and pastries for the chic crowd.

To further encourage the crowd to spend, each person is given food coupons worth Rs 750 valid only during Festember, the amount being deducted from their mess deposit. These coupons come in denominations of 50, 20, 10 and 5.

Now two of my friends, let’s call them Damo and Sappa, were budgeting their expenditure for the next three days. Rs 750 falls way short of covering even a day and a half considering the sky-high prices that some of these stalls are charging (consider this – Baskin-Robbins is charging 60 bucks for 60 grams of ice-cream!)

Keeping this in mind, they decided to split a pizza worth a hundred by coughing up fifty each. This is where I need to mention that Sappa, though he may have a GPA of around nine on a scale of ten and what not, lacks a wee bit in the common sense department. Damo handed Sappa his coupon, and the latter went up to the stall to buy the pizza.

Upon getting there and placing his order, Sappa pulled out two coupons to find out that they only totalled 55 (that’s right, 50 + 5). Thinking he’d pulled out a wrong coupon, Sappa replaced the coupon worth 5 with another worth 50 and paid up for the pizza. When both had finished licking the box inside-out, Damo had an interesting anecdote to share. Apparently, he had handed Sappa the 5 rupee coupon after folding it in two, and the latter accepted it without bothering to check it first. Thanks to some quick thinking by Damo and an incredible bit of luck, he’s managed two slices of pizza for just Rs 5 – this has got to be a record of some sort!

Needless to say, we had a good laugh at Sappa’s expense, and he won’t be living this down for a long time to come :D

As for me, I’m inviting Sappa out to lunch tomorrow, 50-50 of course :p

Jumping on the bandwagon

Blogging as we know it today began to evolve towards the mid 90s from the moderated newsgroups of USENET. I’m not pulling this off the top of my head either, I wouldn’t know where to begin on a fact like that. You see, this is what Wikipedia has to say on it. But how did blogging, something that is so impersonal in that it involves mere text and the occasional picture (unless it’s a photo blog, in which case there’s going to be a ton of them) or video get to be so popular? And what makes or breaks a blog? Now I’m well aware that at this point I am but a layman when it comes to blogging, this being my first post and all. But that doesn’t mean a layman can’t make observations (hell that’s what a blog is for! :)).

First off, I’d like to start by contradicting my own position – blogging does not necessarily have to be impersonal if the author realizes that his* job is not merely done once a new post has been put up. If the author respects his readers enough to respond to their comments, whether they be positive feedback or scathing criticism, he will find that, over time, he will learn much more than what he intended to. This will reflect positively on his blog as well. This keeps the existing users hooked, while bringing in new users at the same time. A virtuous cycle like this motivates the author to improve the quality of his content with every blog post, resulting in a gradual increase in popularity.

Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, the human mind is basically attuned to speaking more than listening. Every average Joe and his dog want a blog (not to mention a Facebook account :)). While there is nothing wrong with this, it does lead to a huge information overload. There are multiple blogs out there on the same topic. Many of them do nothing more than to plagiarise articles from the better known ones in order to ride their popularity. Others start off strong only to lose steam way too early. This is the main reason why a huge number of blogs out there are languishing in the lonely depths of obscurity, which brings us to our third point.

Content. This is what distinguishes the best from the rest. I realise this is easier said than done, but the competition out there means that churning out sub-par posts is never going to work out well in the long run. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror fame has said that the average web user today is more fickle than ever, thanks to being spoilt for choice. While his post refers to page rendering times, the same can easily be extended to website content as well. If you can’t satisfy your users, somebody else will.

Posting frequency goes hand in hand with content in determining the quality of a blog. A top-notch blog with two posts per year just can’t sustain the same level of interest as another one with above average posts every other week. It all comes down to balancing quality content with the frequency of posts, and it doesn’t always have to be a trade-off.

Lastly, the tools. While a lot of people might love 80′s disco nights, the same “throwback to the good ol’ days” principle doesn’t apply to blogging, and to websites in general. Not everyone can get away with an ultra-simplistic Craigslist kind of layout – let’s face it, more often than not, they’re eyesores. This is where tools like WordPress fit in. They offer all the bells and whistles to average non-technical users without them having to pay an arm and a leg for it, while keeping it deceptively simple too. This allows the user to focus on content without having to get caught up on details.

Why am I jumping on the bandwagon? After a long while of reading a variety of blogs from people all around the world, mainly on technology, I’ve developed a strong desire to jump in and start something of my own. And I do realize the irony of choosing to talk about these tips in my very first blog post. Only time will tell how well I manage to stick to these basic guidelines. Also, while these tips have been stressed enough by a multitude of more experienced bloggers numerous times in the past, I guess I can safely say that there are an even wider number of blogs out there that would do well to follow these tips. An excellent, more detailed guide by Alan Skorkin can be found here.

* please don’t misconstrue me as a sexist. He is meant to be read as he/she throughout this post.

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