Dan McTeague is a loud-mouth know-nothing.

I just wanted to make that clear.

From the “50 Cent ban” to today’s ineffectual political posturing on oil prices, I think he’s proven he doesn’t understand the economy or free markets, nor should he be talking about them. Add to that the fact that his copyright positions — rather important for someone who may end up being Sam Bulte’s successor — are nothing more than slightly tweaked talking points drawn directly from American copyright interests. He not only does not seem to understand real, physical economies, but also seems to have missed the boat on intellectual property as well. (And being from his rather chequered political party, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were actually on their payroll.)

That said, Mr McTeague, what solution do you have to record oil prices and record oil profits? Do you have anything constructive to say other than a lot of sound-byte-grabbing hand-wringing? Any suggestions? Do you want to regulate the fuel market more? Or less? Reduce taxes? Make production easier? Keep more oil in Canada? Build refineries? Wean Canada off its absolute dependence on oil? Invest in alternative fuels and energy sources? Give grants to companies building greener cars? Fast-track greener cars so they can get on the road before we all die? Anything?

Nope. Just moaning. It sounds good, and we’re all doing it, but really, this is how the market works. If there really isn’t any reason for oil prices to rise (though there is) other than “unnecessary speculation”, you tell me how to stop that speculation. Give me a plan.

Prices are being driven up by speculation, yes. They always are. This isn’t some new phenomenon that became a bugbear yesterday. But prices are also rising because demand is rising. China, anyone? India? It’s not idle speculation. There is so very much demand and future demand right now. And when prices go up, oil company profits go up for a while and then level off as the price of crude reaches some equilibrium. This is a historical trend. It will happen this time like it always has, but will you hear Dan McTeague saying, “Oh, okay, it’s alright if you only make $400 million. That’s fine. We’re good with that.” Of course not.

Good news for those of us screwed over by Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron).

After filing a bug or two on Launchpad I finally got filled in on why my setup is currently so horribly broken.

The long and short of the matter is this: The old Twinview/Xinerama regime is gone and done away with. They are a thing of the past, a legacy hack that had to be thrown out at some point to make way for the new and shiny xrandr.

The reason is that Xinerama doesn’t allow you to do things any sane operating system should be able to do, like hotplug monitors and projectors. Xrandr does support those things. However, it doesn’t right now support more than than dual-head setups, which is apparently the most prevalent use case out there right now.

Multiple cards and more than two monitors are in the works, and though xrandr can’t handle them right now, it will be able to in the future, perhaps even in Hardy+1.

Bottom line: If your setup includes more than two monitors running off one card, you’re screwed. Stick with 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) until you hear it’s safe to upgrade. So that’s the good/bad news.

For myself, I’m a little less infuriated now that I understand the issue a bit more. I’d urge the Ubuntu developers, though, to disclose these things a little more openly in the future. If there are going to be serious regressions, if something isn’t going to work that worked in the previous version, let me know. It’ll save me the trouble of upgrading and downgrading and a lot of shouting curses at the developers I can name. Plus, not everything is always going to be sunshine and daffodils with every release; of course things are going to change, sometimes taking a step backwards to take two steps forward, but at least let me know before hand. There’s a distinct dearth of information regarding any of the problems I’ve had, at least that I could find.

Spam blogs are getting out of hand.

It seems automated news scraping splogs are basically tracking back to every single post I make. I get rather sick of seeing them… is there any way to nuke them from outer space?

A SMB-friendly stack: Why doesn’t Linux have one?

On its own, Mozilla Thunderbird is a handsome, capable mail app. It does everything you would expect a mail application to do and a bit more. I would compare its capabilities — unfairly — to Outlook Express rather than Outlook proper, as it lacks calendaring and tasking capabilities. Outlook, though traditionally one of the major security holes in and attack vectors for Windows, is otherwise quite a functional application, though nothing particularly special.

What Outlook does, though, is easily plug into Exchange. Which just happens to easily plug into things like Sharepoint and Office. All of which rests on a foundation of MSSQL and Active Directory. Which only exist on Windows Servers. This is what we call an ecosystem. It’s one of the few things that Microsoft does right. Outlook is simply the thin end of the wedge, that little bit of lubrication that enables you to more easily give money to Microsoft.

And right now, there’s really no good alternative. Outlook + Office + Sharepoint + Exchange + MSSQL + Windows Server is damned expensive, (often) hard to maintain and administer, and hooked into a system of constant and unnecessary upgrades that ensure it will be expensive now and in the future, but it’s so easy.

Thunderbird doesn’t have that ecosystem. Evolution doesn’t have that ecosystem. Thunderbird is getting close with the Lightning calendaring application, a fine, even essential addition to the program. I can’t imagine installing Thunderbird without Lightning. But this is all frontend stuff. If you want to set up a proper backend for Thunderbird using, say, Linux + MySQL + Postfix + whatever, you’re in for quite a steep learning curve. Unless you have a lot of spare time, that learning curve will be almost insurmountable.

What the Linux business community needs, to penetrate the SMB market especially, is something along the lines of Exchange. Something like Zimbra, for instance. We need to cast aside this idea that a competent UNIX admin must be in charge of the Linux server. Most small and medium sized businesses simply do not have the resources for that. We need to be able to say, here, have this server. It will do what you need it to do.

Can you imagine a Linux-based server with a bunch of pre-built virtual machines designed to work with each other to provide a smooth computing experience for those of us who can’t afford to hire an admin full time?

You buy some iron, lay it down in the spare room, and say, okay, I need the “Storage” virtual machine and the “Mail Server” virtual machine and the “Web Server” virtual machine, and the “Collaboration” virtual machine. You install them, you click through a bunch of helpful wizards and boom, you’re done. Maybe it points you in the direction of a backup server for good measure.

You go to your Windows or OS X or Ubuntu machine and start it up. You install a couple programs on it that just work right out of the box. Could be Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, or whatever. You get to work and everything is exactly the way you want it.

Then one day when your company has enough money for an full-time admin, you separate that functionality into separate servers or whatever.

I guarantee that business owners will pay for that. Bundle all these free software ideas together and make a usable package out of them. I don’t care of you GPL your front end or not. I’m a pragmatist when it comes to things like that. But there is serious money to be made in the marketplace for a company brave enough to do just that. You can sell your product and the support of that product for far less than all that Microsoft software. You can undercut them and create a better, more secure product in the meantime.

A guy can dream, right?

How to get more life out of your Brother printer cartridge

Updated: There’s a great tutorial on eHow about this with pictures and whatnot. Linky.

I bought a couple Brother laser printers for here at work, a HL-2040 and one of their multifunction printer/copiers. They’re generally okay; they’re not great like the Xerox that would not stop running or the current HP LaserJet that replaced the Xerox but cannot replace its memory.

My two constant complaints with these printers is that 1) they curl pages, and 2) the printer thinks the toner cartridge is empty long before it actually is.

As it turns out, #1 is just a function of Brother printers being pretty much cheap crap. Not to say you don’t good bang for your buck, but you also get bad curl for your page. So much for that.

But #2 seems either malicious on Brother’s part, or incompetent on their engineer’s part. The sensor that detects low toner is placed above the empty level so there’s still toner left when the printer errors out and won’t let you print any more. Why it does this instead of simply printing until I can see that the toner is gone is beyond me; it’s disgustingly wasteful.

But though you can’t do anything about #1, you most certainly can deal with #2. This advice, though, comes without warranty. If you wreck your printer or something, don’t come complaining to me about this. For all I know, this is not safe.

If the printer is erroring out, saying that you are out of toner, place a bit of electrical tape over the sensors windows on each side of the toner cartridge. To do this you have to lift the cover, pull the drum out, remove the cartridge from the drum, and locate the windows. They should be small, round, semi-translucent windows on each side of the cartridge. Both will be located in exactly the same spot, as it seems the toner sensor is optical and basically shines a light right through to detect the toner level.

Place small bits of electrical tape or something else vaguely dark over the apertures, slide the cartridge back into the drum, slide the assembly back into the printer, close the top, and away you go. You will probably get at least 50% more life out of those cartridges.

Four things that make me rather cross.

  • Transit strikes.

I can get on board with unions. They’re necessary to balance the interests of workers against the interests of corporations. I get that. Yet when it comes to transit workers, some of the most overpaid and impolite unionised individuals in existence barring perhaps automotive workers, I’m not on their side. Especially when the TTC members reject an offer that would make them the highest paid transit workers in the country, even in the face of their union recommending they take the deal. Especially when they give an hour or less notice that they’ve decided to strike, stranding tens of thousands of people who count on the TTC to operate. They could not possibly have engendered less public support for their actions. Almost everyone I’ve talked to about the strike is enraged at the TTC. Couldn’t the union have simply started a work-to-rule campaign wherein they stopped accepting fares? That would have put pressure on the city without garnering for themselves the further, aggravated dislike of an entire city.

  • Shark fin soup.

I watched Sharkworld last night. The film is amazing, but the events portrayed in the film are a travesty. An unmitigated, utterly barbaric raping of the oceans. Frankly, anyone who eats shark fin soup should have his arms and legs chopped off and be left to starve on the side of a road somewhere. If flaunting your wealth involves damaging the life-support system of the entire earth, perhaps you should be made to feel the cost of that. I hope future generations look back on the Chinese and Taiwanese as a sort of barbarian race of ecological terrorists whose actions severely diminished the richness of the world’s oceans. Not that I have much of a high horse to speak from; Canada’s seal hunts and government subsidised fisheries are just as ruthless and unconcerned with long-term impact. Personally, I stopped eating fish — any fish, at all — about six months back, after reading A Short History of Nearly Everything. And it’s sad to see that a bunch of nutcases at Greenpeace are doing God’s work (in their own strange, rabid way) while the vast majority of Christians don’t bother to tend to the world’s largest garden: the seas.

  • Evangelicals in bed with the Republican party

Certainly after Mr Bush’s disastrous dual terms in office, some of the Republicans in the States must be second-guessing their religious affiliation with their party. That it took a bunch of crooks to do that is a great tragedy. That some will never question that affiliation is a greater tragedy still. Still, with the mythology of the Pilgrims and Religious Freedom and Democracy and Fighting The Evil British and God Is On Our Side still going strong, it’s not really that strange. It’s just… sad. America is no more on God’s side than Charlemagne or Constantine (whose in hoc signo vinces should still ring as an affront to the very ethic of Jesus, and one of the greatest lies the devil has managed to perpetuate over the ages). You mix your religion with your politics and you find that they make very bad bedfellows. Your religion must of course inform your political views, but politics must not ever inform your religion. Politics is about the exercise earthly power; Jesus is about the exercise of heavenly power. These things are very, very different. They are oil and water. You should not mix them up, or soon you find people painting Jesus on the side of their nuclear warheads.

  • Cliches in sermons.

If you are attempting to preach an authentic sermon, something that resonates in the hearts and minds of your listeners, don’t use cliches. Don’t use marketspeak. You’re not a motivational speaker. You’re not an entertainer. You must approach scripture and let it inform your method of preaching. People do not need handy bullet points that rhyme and have a particularly pleasing cadence. Bullet points do not impart truth, at least not any sort of useful truth. As anyone trying to implement and idea will tell you, it’s not simply enough to have a great idea: you need a great implementation. That is to say that while a turn of phrase might be handy to encapsulate the thrust of your message, the nuances are where the magic lies. Or, you might say, the difference between Mac OS X and Windows. There’s a reason Jesus used parables and not a lot of handy tracts. You can mine a parable for ages, you can look at it from different directions and see things you didn’t see before, you can over-analyse it, you can approach it with too much gravitas, you can do all kinds of things. A bullet point is boring. A bullet point that rhymes and sticks in your head is annoying and boring.

I have to expand on this. Jesus told stories that had a particular richness to them. They weren’t simple anecdotes with simple points. They were designed so you have to look at them just the right way — often in hindsight — to get the point. And often you’ll quite dislike the point because it hits you dead-centre.

These days preachers tend to tell stories both brief and humorous that make a particular broad point that lines up with their sermons. These stories are blunt instruments. They’re not really narrative: they’re cleverly disguised bullet points. There’s no meat. There’s no content. They’re like a dancing monkey with colourful clothes: it might be briefly entertaining, but you certainly wouldn’t want to marry the monkey. It’s just a monkey. Take off all the clothes and strip away the dancing routine and it’s just a monkey. And you’ll find that monkeys are rather boring, after all.

I’d like to be told the truth. Not a particularly one-dimensional version of the truth that can fit in three points and thirty minutes. If telling the truth means you need to go into overtime and tell stories and confuse me and dig deeper than I’m prepared to go, DO IT. God knows I’m never going to do that myself, willingly.

Dear Bryce Harrington:

Should you ever read my frustrated little post and feel I was unfairly slagging you and your xrandr GUI, I assure you I was not. In fact, if you make this thing work for me and my four screens, I will literally give you money. I don’t make a lot, I have a very expensive mouth full of cavities, I’m still paying my and my wife’s debt, and gas costs about a buck a centilitre, but I will give you money. And I will say nice things about you to my friends. And I will distribute Ubuntu CDs to everyone I know. And I will write a song for you, record it on Ardour, and try to get it into the Ubuntu Weekly newsletter.

Just, you know, FYI.

Impressions of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) and the new X.org

Edit: Don’t read this. It’s just an angry rant. Read this instead, as it has actual information in it.

When I was contemplating upgrading from Ubuntu 7.10, the thing I was most worried about was the new PulseAudio subsystem being integrated into the system this release cycle. I know how much pain this caused a lot of people in the Fedora community, and I was a little apprehensive about it.

Turns out that PulseAudio actually works better than the old ESD/ALSA crap. It works way better, in fact. I installed padevchooser and it just worked. Still not the most user-friendly tool ever, but good enough for my purposes. All my applications seem to work with PulseAudio just as well as with the old and busted.

What I hadn’t been expecting, and what blind-sided me, was the X.org changes. I had heard rumblings about the auto-whatever, the new screen choosing/cloning applet, et cetera. Upon install X detected my two primary monitors (and nvidia-settings stitched them together with TwinView), which is fine and dandy, but that’s not all that I have connected to my computer. I have two X screens, not just one. Two monitors are connected to one screen, one monitor and a TV output are connected to the other. I can move between the two with my mouse, and I had learned xorg.conf-speak in order to be able to do this.

8.04 just destroyed that setup. The stupid, useless, craptacular, utterly functionality-bare Screen Resolution tool won’t detect my two primary monitors on videocard0, much less actually stitch them together to make one giant monitor like it should. Very much less detect the other two screens on videocard1. It won’t do this with the nv driver, it won’t do this with the nvidia driver from the repos, it won’t do this with the beta driver from Nvidia.com, it just doesn’t work. Period. Ubuntu’s default install still lacks all the tools needed to operate with two monitors, something that quite a few people I know are fond of and even find indispensable.

I’m so utterly frustrated with the whole fiddling with configurations thing. I recognize that Ubuntu, so far, is the best in breed of distributions, and when setting this computer up from scratch, I have no other complaint except for displays. That’s it. But this has been a thorn in the side of the Linux Desktop for many, many years now. I don’t know if the blame lies in using what seems to be an antiquated display system or binary drivers or whatever, but I simply can’t stand how this goes on and on and on.

I booted into Ubuntu just now with my two monitors and Twinview seemed to work fine. The splash page, at least, did that annoying thing where it centered the login prompt in the middle of the 2880 x 900 screen, right in the middle of the gap between two monitors, so that half my login is on one monitor and half on the other. This is okay with me; I’ve grown used to sort of glancing from one to the other. It lets me know that Twinview is working and that when Gnome starts up, I’ll be able to use all that screen real estate.

Nope! Gnome decides to switch one of my monitors off! Wonderful, thank you Gnome. It turns out that I have two metamodes in my xorg.conf, one for both monitors one, one for one monitor off and the other on, and that Gnome decided in its inexplicable wisdom to choose the second. Before you ask me why I don’t just eliminate one metamode, I’ll tell you that I play UrbanTerror, and if I don’t have that second metamode, when it plays fullscreen it does that annoying center-of-the-screen thing (like the Gnome splash), and while I can tolerate that elsewhere, playing a game is different. I want it on one screen. So I need both metamodes.

So I surf the web trying to find an answer. There is none. Most people seem rather confused as to why xorg.conf is just a stub these days, and I keep hearing rumblings about something called xrandr whose manpage is — in typical UNIX fashion — complete and utter gibberish to anyone who doesn’t already understand the tool. So I’m left to figure out on my own why X can’t initialize two screens with four monitors, using a perfectly good xorg.conf that worked just fine on Ubuntu 7.10 and the three releases before that. Finally, I decide to fire up displayconfig-gtk, which I’m told can hose my display configuration (couldn’t get more hosed, thank you!), and I find to my utter surprise that while X, nvidia-settings, and Screen Resolution cannot detect my monitors, displayconfig-gtk can… just not all four. Only two. One on each videocard. Hooray! So I set the second (on videocard1) to the primary display and find to my great astonishment that it works just fine. But only it works, and nothing else. Just the one monitor. And though nvidia-settings says the TV-out is working, it is not. So I have just the one monitor now.

I say to myself, okay, this sucks, I’ll go back to the original settings. I do this, and lo and behold I log out and log back in to find that Gnome has magically decided to use the first metamode and not the second. The second metamode is still there — I checked — but Gnome is using the first now. Why? I have no idea. I’m afraid to restart the computer now, as if I do, I might never be able to use Twinview properly again.

I absolutely cannot believe this. I know I’m a edge use case. Not a lot of people are running this many screens and monitors. But for the love of all that is good, why does my old xorg.conf not work? Has Hardy introduced a regression that causes dual videocard motherboards to ignore the second card unless a live chicken is sacrificed and something goes horribly wrong?

Gah. I’m going back to Gutsy, I really am. I can install PulseAudio myself, and install FF3 myself, thankyouverymuch. I can’t see any other big changes — except for, you know, the bad ones — that would compel me to do otherwise. I just hope that torrent is still alive somewhere.

Frankly, my good man, I agree.

I read an article that basically said you should stop being a snob about which network your shows are on.

Guess what? I agree. I’m basically a gigantic snob, but funny is funny is funny. That’s it. I happen to think 30 Rock is hilarious. I have a hit-and-miss relationship with Scrubs. The Office is totally old hat now (it had a good run while it was fresh).

But you know what? How I Met Your Mother is made out of pure awesome welded to 100 proof amazing. Samantha Who is almost great television. The Big Bang Theory is comedy gold, maybe the funniest show I’ve seen in years, even if the humour sometimes feels like being repeatedly hit in the face with a funny stick.

My Name is Earl is not funny. Two and a Half Men is not funny. That is all.

Going forward; what now?

Today, take a moment and look at a globe. Spin it around. See if you can find a place full of tragedy and injustice.

It’s not that hard, is it? The names roll off my tongues one after another. If you’ve been exposed to the world outside your own borders at all, you’ll recognise them. They have existed, and they exist right now, these places.

There’s so much evil in the world. So much injustice. So much stricken poverty and horrible injustice. There’s so much evil that standing before it makes me feel powerless, unable to help. I’m just one man. What can I do?

It’s always been here: the scale of our atrocities as a species increases, but it’s the same thing that’s been happening since the first humans sinned. It is not right that some go hungry, but some have always gone hungry. It is not right that some die in genocides, but some have always died like that. It is not right that brutal dictatorships flourish while the church is poised at the brink of the abyss, but this awful balance has always just been kept.

So going forward, what now? What is my posture towards these things to be? How do I, as a Christian, effect change in this world?

I don’t have a very good answer for that, I’m afraid. I don’t have a grand revelation. I haven’t had an epiphany or seen a blinding light. All I know is that I am convinced that what I do matters, not simply in the sense that people are important and I should care about getting their souls into heaven, but in the sense that the physical world is important, that taking care of it is important, and that justice here and now is something God speaks of over and over in the scriptures.

All I can say is, keep plugging. The church has done an amazing amount of work in the world. It has done some evil, some grandly evil things it should never have done, but the unspoken kindness and grace and justice it has visited on mankind is a testament to its greatness, its transforming power. The church is a beautiful thing with a great opportunity to do work today, here, now, on this physical planet. We have the keys to the kingdom in our hands, so to speak.

We work in the hope that at the end of this earth, this earth will become something new, but yet not new. That when we rise to life again after the brief sleep of death we will rise to a world without injustice, as God judges and begins to set things aright.

I know judgement is not a particularly comfortable thing, and our culture is decidedly MPD about it, but it must be done. Evil must be identified and pronounced against and rooted out. Jesus will do that when his kingdom comes in fullness, yes, but I am his agent here and now, part of his kingdom or revolution that exists now in bits and pieces. Should I not do the same?

Should we not all do the same? Should we not identify evil, judge against it, and proceed to root it out wherever we can?