Lucid Lynx First Impressions

Beta 1 of Ubuntu 10.04 has been released. This is the first beta of the next LTS released codenamed Lucid Lynx. There are lots of new features since the release of 9.10.

Since installation the highlights for me are the incredibly fast boot time, Ubuntu One, and MeMenu. My laptop with a 7200 RPM SATA HDD and a Intel Core i7 CPU boots in about 12 seconds from the GRUB screen. Why is GRUB so ugly in Ubuntu anyway? Ubuntu One is like Mobile Me but for Linux. They give you 2 GiB of free storage and you can upgrade from there. It is interesting that Microsoft is the only major OS developer that doesn’t have an equivalent service yet. There is also a nice ap store now for installing application. To patch you need to use the traditional software manager or the CLI.

During my initial setup I ran into a few problems. I know this is a beta but they are still worth noting. During the post install reboot, my computer locked up with some strange kernel messages. The new default open source driver for nVidia hardware really sucked bad for me. I replaced it with nvidia-current (190.53) which performed much better. 2D performance under the open source driver was terrible. Not sure why they included it or why it is so bad. The GPU is an NVIDIA Quadro FX 1800M.

Also for monetary reasons the default home page and default search engine are set to Yahoo! now. While no one in their right mind uses Yahoo as a search engine if it helps keep Ubuntu alive then so much the better. It only took a few seconds to change it to Google.

Gone is GIMP, hurray! The developers for GIMP are a bunch gigantic arrogant jerks who refuse to listen to sane users and their valid requests. There is no greater evidence for the failure of Linux on the desktop then that group of nitwits. Momentum on other editors will not increase. Good riddance.

Among the many changes are a new theme which incorporates a change to the location of the window management buttons from the right side like a Windows implementation and other Linux distros, to the left side like Mac OS. Not being much of a fan for this, here is a simple way to move those back to the right side.

gconftool-2 –set /apps/metacity/general/button_layout –type string menu:minimize,maximize,close

This is what it looks like by default. The buttons themselves look good, although sometimes when I look at them I swear they are not anti-aliased. I’m probably wrong. Having them on the right is a major headache. I really think they should have been moved in a non-LTS release. I hope the crowd pressure will force them to recant.

You can also launch the Configuration Editor (Alt+F2 and type in gconf-editor) and then navigate to apps -> metacity ->general. Look for button_layout on the right hand pane and double click on it to edit it. You should change it from

maximize,minimize,close:

to

menu:minimize,maximize,close

Another consequence of the default theme change is that it is very difficult to discern the delimiter between the window title bar and the application menu space right below that. I found myself missing a click on the window title bar in an effort to relocate the entire window within the desktop. The two colors are only very slightly different from one another. The windows are now almost edgeless and it makes grabbing the window left and right sides for resizing more difficult. Hopefully in future beta versions this will all get tweaked and improved upon.

This version is shaping up to be the best version release thus far. I really think Novell and Red Hat should give up on their desktop versions as products. I can understand using them as vehicles for development but other than that it seems almost silly with how awesome Ubuntu has become. Well that’s all for now.

Chipping Away at Comcast

Comcast

Comcast is starting to spend big money to ensure that its proposed purchase of NBC Universal gets the nod from federal regulators. Expect these numbers to continue to ramp up as Comcast applies even more pressure (read: wining and dining) to the DOJ and the FCC. I can’t seem to find equivalent NBC expenditures anywhere.

Comcast Spent $3.5 Million Lobbying in 4th Quarter

The FCC is taking the lead on the proposed merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. This is probably a good thing as GE, Comcast, and NBC Universal have many friends in the DOJ offices but far less friends in the corridors of the FCC. I don;t always love Julius Genachowski but he has done a few things that I’m happy about. He should be pretty tough on Comcast when the decision times comes. He is one of the few at the FCC political level that seems to have a clue about how the modern media and technology world works and what is good for consumers.

FCC calls shots on Comcast-NBC deal

Feds pledge tough review of Comcast-NBC deal

A big setback for Comcast and Cablevision. The court finally sets straight the previous ruling that these cable operators must share their content with competitors. This was seen as a critical decision for Comcast. One of the hopes of Comcast post NBC Universal merger is to lock in all those channels the produce their own content to the Comcast distribution thus forcing consumers to purchase a Comcast subscription in order to watch programming they want. This is called a monopoly. This is why the merger between NBC Universal and Comcast must be stopped.

Court Rules Cable Owned Stations Have to Be Provided to Satellites

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100312/ap_en_tv/us_cable_access_rules

If like most consumers you think this deal stinks and will raise your cable bills you, should tell the FCC. They have asked for your input [PDF]. Remember how well that AOL-Time Warner merger worked out for everybody?

If you’re against Comcast – NBC deal you have about six weeks to let FCC know.

Finally this just one more example of the duplicity of Comcast when it comes to truth in advertising. Imagine what they will do when they have control on a major content producer like NBC Universal.

Comcast: ‘Unlimited Usage’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Unlimited Usage’

No one really has any idea as to whether this merger will be approved so you as the consumer must continue to make yourself heard.

More HD Compression for Comcast users

Comcast

Comcast you never cease to entertain us as we all know the woes of your network. You are so limited by your little piece of precious cable running through the streets, most of it gobbled up by all of those pesky analog channels you can’t get rid of. Figuring out ways to increase the number of HD channels you can provide your customers is great for business but not so much for picture quality. Remember when you decided to use bit starving for more HD channels and hoped that nobody would notice. So why are you trying it yet again?

Your other buddies in the cable business try other methods like transitioning their customers from analog to digital channels, and others deploy switched digital video solutions, and still others move VOD to IP or start using more efficient codecs like MPEG4.

Some of those options certainly have drawbacks, but you guys are smart enough and can certainly find a better way, right? But testing out ways (that appear to be snake oil from Arris, BigBand Networks, Harmonic, and Imagine) to fit four quality HD channels in one 38Mbps QAM channel while still using MPEG2 seems about as likely as winning the Queen of England bowing before me. So while you continue to delay the inevitability of upgrading your infrastructure I just hope you don’t forget that not everyone who watches Comcast HD doesn’t mind if it looks like an exercise in Seurat pointillism.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

Read the article, Comcast Unit Sizes Up 4:1 HD Compression from Light Reading Cable

Boss Key Awesomeness

The first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament are filled with plenty of daytime games, which means plenty of employees may be more focused on brackets and office pools than spreadsheets and documents.

Chicago-based consulting firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. estimates that could cost employers up to $1.8 billion in lost productivity during the first week of the tournament alone.

Remember when I told you about the totally awesome boss key in the Winter Olympics video streaming client? Well the NCAA has done the same thing but this one is even more awesome.

Boss Key

You can see the boss key near the top, right below the Coke logo. Push it and you get the image below.

Boss Key

Windows 7 with PowerPoint 2007. But it gets better. The Olympics only had Windows Vista and an Excel spreadsheet. Lame. And, I hope you’re not using a Mac or even worse Linux.

Boss Key

In the PowerPoint slide there is a comic of Dilbert and a flowchart.

Dilbert

This is the detail on the comic strip. Scott Adams characters reference the study done by Challenger. How funny is that? The Boss Button was clicked more than 2.77 million times during the 2009 tournament.

Scott Adams even adda some funny comments on his blog.

Halo Hound

Halo Dog

This has got to be one of the coolest pictures in the history of the world.


Two members of the Austrian special forces join Nato’s Operation Cold Response, one of Europe’s biggest military exercises, in Narvik, Norway.

Dropping from 10,000ft, they glide in order to land unnoticed. The dogs often carry cameras and are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon.

“Dogs don’t perceive height difference, so that doesn’t worry them. They’re more likely to be bothered by the roar of the engines, but once we’re on the way down, that doesn’t matter and they just enjoy the view,” said the dog handler. “It’s something he does a lot. He has a much cooler head than most recruits.”

Commandos from 14 countries, including British special forces and Royal Marines, took part in the Nato exercise. The use of dogs in High Altitude High Opening missions was pioneered by America’s Delta Force, which trained the animals to breathe through oxygen masks during the jump.

The SAS has adapted similar techniques and, according to special forces sources, bought a number of American-trained dogs for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The dogs used by the British are fitted with a head camera, allowing special forces to see inside insurgent compounds, and Kevlar body armour.

As well as reconnaissance, the animals are trained to attack anyone carrying a weapon, although it is claimed that they will not attack those who are unarmed.

Two SAS dogs are reported to have died on raids in Iraq. Thor and Scotty were killed in 2008 when British special forces waged a successful campaign to destroy al-Qaeda’s bombing networks in Baghdad. Both animals are remembered on a stone memorial at the SAS headquarters in Hereford.

Original Article from The Times

Tax Deductions

As tax time approaches you should start thinking of ways to increase your number of deductions. You can even be creative. I’m sure the IRS will understand.

Deductions

Ranking Pixar

Pixar

Some friends and I started talking about Pixar movies and we all had different ideas about which one is our favorite. So I decided I needed to rank all the movies in order. This will probably change in six months and if I made this list a year ago it would probably very different.

  1. WALL-E (2008)
  2. The Incredibles (2004)
  3. Up (2009)
  4. Ratatouille (2007)
  5. A Bug’s Life (1998)
  6. Cars (2006)
  7. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  8. Toy Story (1995)
  9. Toy Story 2 (1999)
  10. Finding Nemo (2003)

I know most people will say, “Finding Nemo, last? What’s up with that?” Well for my personal taste that is the way it broke down and I’m sticking with it. Yes I know it is still the highest grossing Pixar movie to date. There are four Pixar movies in the pipeline, one of which we get this year, Toy Story 3. The others are Cars 2, Bear and the Bow, and Newt. It’s always good to know we have more magic to look forward to.

I’m still amazed at the impact Pixar has had on both family entertainment, animation, and movie making. The stories they have created are still engrossing and fresh with each new story. Everyone in the industry has copied Pixar and just like Colton said long ago, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Does anyone make 2D animated movies anymore, not counting stop-motion animation? Dreamworks is the biggest competitor to Pixar. So how do they compare? I think the chart below made by Gagnon II pretty much sums it up. Click for the full size version.

Pixar vs. Dreamworks

Keep on rockin’ Pixar. I’ll keep spending my money on your flicks. Deal?

Olympics at Work

Olympics 2010

So I decided to check out the Olympics streaming content from NBC and the whole site struck me as a bit overloaded. The selection of live feeds is pretty sparse but they do have lots of content you can view ex post facto for what that is worth. Odds are good that you will have already read who won by the time you get a chance to watch the replay.

I started to watch a Womens Hockey game after having to prove that I pay for TV and that my TV provider forks over lots of money for Olympics streaming rights. I wonder if there is different content for different TV subscribers? After a few seconds I notice that there is a boss key on the Silverlight player! it is on the lower right corner of the Silverlight client. The NBC Olympics web site is a very Microsoft oriented thing.

The main streaming page.
Olympics

The boss key is on the lower right corner, click for larger image.
Olympics

The Boss page is Windows Vista with Excel 2007 show a blank sheet. Funny stuff.
Olympics

I hope you’re not running Linux. “Oh you switched to Windows!?” “Um … yes, yes I did. I’m only going to give it two weeks to see how it works out. Then I may switch back.”

I remember in the old days computer games had a boss key. I was too young to have a job and need a boss key, although it came in handy hiding games from the homework czar. I haven’t seen a game ship in a long time with a boss key.

I do credit for NBC understanding there will be a large demand for viewing while at the office. In order to maximize viewers they don’t want them to get fired for watching the Olympics. The video quality is good but there have been frequent disconnects and dropouts. I have had to reload the whole page twice to get the player to start streaming content again. The lack of a pop out window option is a bit of a disappointment.

Now, if you think these pay walls are a one time thing, think again. This will be all to common once NBC is owned by Comcast. They will provide premium if not all content to those who subscribe to their cable service. Things are only going to get more expensive once Comcast owns NBC Universal.

Comcast vs. Congress

Comcast

Recently the dynamic duo of NBC President Jeff Zucker and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts went before a Senate subcommittee hearing to discuss their merger. The duo got very little love from the panel. Is the Senate being tough for the cameras or do they actually have concerns.

The toughest critic so far has been Senator Al Franken (D-MN). I am certainly no fan of Stuart Smalley but he made some valid criticisms of NBCU and actually seems to understand what is going on here and what is at stake. Ars Technica has a great write up on their exchange which frankly seemed to be a bit personal. It certainly makes for interesting reading as these matters are usually handled behind closed doors but this disagreement was made public. Here is the video.

As I have said before, what is really going on here is not about traditional TV but TV served over the internet. Companies like Hulu, Netflix, and Youtube are really the ones who are at risk. NBCU and Comcast know that is where the future lies and they are fighting it tooth and nail. These providers like Netflix are particularly threatened by this merger because Comcast is the largest ISP in the US, therefore a large number of its streaming customers rely on Comcast to view the content. Comcast can use that as leverage against Netflix when negotiating NBCU content distribution deals with Netflix. With the proposed network neutrality rules (which is a sham) Comcast will be able to throttle manage Netflix data streams to where users become dissatisfied and look elsewhere for that content. Comcast has already demonstrated a willingness to battle over this territory.

Netflix has commented, ““If left unchecked, the “managed services” category could engulf the Commission’s open Internet policies altogether. As such, the Commission must carefully circumscribe the network operators’ ability to exempt certain services from the openness rules by classifying them as managed services,” Netflix wrote in its filing.”

They can get cut off by Comcast at any time on both the back end from the NBCU side or on the front side by the ISP side of Comcast. You can also think of a managed service as a dedicated channel on the Internet for things like telemedicine or streaming video like Netflix. An ISP like Comcast allots a certain amount of bandwidth and assurance for quality to that channel. Those companies have pushed for exemptions in the FCC’s net neutrality rules, bringing up examples of video for remote medical care that need prioritization. But also imagine how a company would put their own video services in that channel – essentially extending the cable television model to the Internet. We know how well that is working out for consumer household budgets.

Netflix is among a growing number of Internet video companies pairing up with TV makers like LG, Samsung, and Sony who provide “apps” on their devices or set top boxes like Roku, which enable your large living room TV to conenct ot the internet and watch streamign content. This is really the convergence of the Internet and televisions that has been long sought after. Those companies have pushed a slow but remarkable move by consumers to cut their cable and satellite subscriptions. Almost every TV and Blu-ray player announced at CES this year had some sort of VoD app capability.

Congressman Mark Cooper (D-GA) challenged the very idea that the Comcast NBCU merger was not a horizontal integration. NBC has a significant stake in Hulu.com, and Comcast with Fancast.net and its TV Everywhere initiative. Comcast’s efforts will allow it’s cable video customers to access Comcast provided content online.

“Comcast is clearly attempting to control the distribution of the video content it makes available on the Web by restricting sales exclusively to Comcast cable customers,” Cooper charged, in that the content is not available to non-Comcast subscribers.

“By contrast, NBC has exactly the opposite philosophy—or at least it did,” he warned. “Through Hulu, NBC is competing for both Comcast and non-Comcast customers by selling video online that is not tied to cable. NBC also has incentives to make its programming available in as many points of sale as possible. Merger with Comcast will put an end that pro-competitive practice.” He nailed it.

Comcast is continuing to stifle competition and innovation in an attempt to protect it antiquated business model. Comcast isn’t interested in you as their customer.