It does rock indeed

So this is the obligatory blogged-on-the-N900 blog entry, straight from the maemo browser running all that WordPress JavaScript. So far, I am pretty amazed, although it’s only one day and I didn’t have much time to play with it. Software and UI are much more polished than I would have expected, and browsing the web works so much better than with any other mobile browser I’ve used so far.

Shipping

It’s on its way! I have finally ordered one of these fine mini laptops that can serve as cell phones, too. Now I’m sure that Adrian will taunt me for buying a device that comes with my favorite audio daemon pre-installed, but hey if it works as it should I’m OK with that. What convinced me to get one of these phones is that I will be able to install Debian packages, that it features an XTerm hotkey that will open a shell from anywhere and that it should be useful without relying on my Google account.

Pulse Pounding

Yes, I knew this would happen. However, that does not diminish my frustration. Of all the desktop machines that I work with, I only use three to play audio frequently. These machines currently run Ubuntu Jaunty, Ubuntu Karmic and Fedora 11. For each setup I had the good intention of keeping PulseAudio after installation, but it failed on each installation for a separate reason:

  • On the machine running Karmic, vlc (the only player capable to properly play my AVCHD recordings) will drop frames like hell when running with PulseAudio.
  • The Jaunty machine is a rather powerful quad-core with a high-end sound card and just listening to music with totem I will actually get occasional buffer underruns (stuttering audio) when running a kernel compile.
  • On the Fedora machine I’d like to run mpd on start-up as a different user than the one logged in (who is forced to run PulseAudio) and this is not easily possible (or maybe not at all).

Even worse, it is becoming more and more painful to remove PulseAudio. You will loose ubuntu-desktop and gnome-bluetooth (also on Fedora). For Karmic I had to recompile gnome-session or else it will fully load one core trying to connect to PulseAudio. Gnome will no longer let you control the volume, neither from the panel nor via the keyboard.

So now we have shiny new features (that I never had a chance to use, because I always have to disable PulseAudio), but solid, reliable and easy sound output is history. Congratulations on breaking Linux Audio!

Bad Thinking

Even though I had hardly used it, my Dell Inspiron laptop broke after two years: now it will only run with the AC adapter plugged in and the battery removed. Even worse, I had to by a new AC adapter and a replacement battery to find out that it’s actually the laptop that is having issues.

Google also told me that this is rather common with Dell’s Inspiron models. As a laptop without battery is rather pointless, I decided it is time to start looking for a new one – so now I am the proud owner of a Lenovo ThinkPad SL500. ThinkPads have gained the reputation of being solid business laptops over the years, however the ThinkPad fan base has decided  that the SL series is not worthy of receiving the ThinkPad brand – at least if the comments to this announcement are representative. A common theme seems to be to call the SL models ThinkBad laptops.

Now that I’ve been using my new laptop (the NRJAQGE edition with nVidia graphics and the higher LCD resolution) for a few weeks, my take on the SL500 is this: you get quite a load of laptop at a reasonable price. While I agree that it doesn’t feel as tough as for example an R61, it is still pretty solid. Some of the changes introduced with the SL series are questionable though: the glossy top is definitiley a good surface to collect hundreds of fingerprints but it fails to deliver the hip look Lenovo has probably tried to achieve.

I’m currently running Karmic on the SL500, which supports most of the hardware. What is not working at the moment is the UMTS card, the fingerprint scanner and the Lenovo buttons. There’s a patch available for the buttons and it looks like it could be included with the next kernerl update.

Audacity

Over the holidays I went shopping for some fresh music. I was very pleased to learn that Ugly Duckling have released a new album as I had already feared that the guys have vanished as they never updated their original website. It seems they have moved to myspace so the old site is history.

When I first unwrapped the CD and started listening I immediately started nodding my head and after a few minutes I caught myself thinking: Wait! Something’s wrong here. Andy Cooper is singing! What audacity! And guess what – he is doing a wonderful job. This new vocal nuance blends into the beloved UD sound just as if it had always belonged there. The choice of samples is as exceptional as always and what Einstein is doing is simply astonishing. This is definitely my favorite UD album as of yet and there’s really some tough competition out there. And even better: UD will travel all around Europe again this year, so be sure that I will be there when they come to Stuttgart next month.

And now, as an instant prove of how they are keeping the old-school alive, may I introduce to you: Ugly Ducking – I wont let it die.

Some Milk Today

Copenhagen stopover
Copenhagen stopover

I am currently spending three days in Helsinki for a business trip. Unfortunately I will not be leaving the airport area a lot. It is nice to visit a place where people’s keyboards have Umlauts, too. OK, instead of the German ü they have an å but the other Umlauts are the same. I have to admit that Suomi still is completely unparseable to me.

I was also surprised to notice how popular milk is in Finland. While in other parts of Europe a glass of milk is disrespected to be a drink for toddlers only, the Finns enjoy a healthy glass of milk and order it regularly with their lunch or dinner even at a restaurant. The hotel I’m staying at actually provides 6 types of milk for breakfast.

Today Helsinki saw the first bits of snow this year, so mabye I going to find out tomorrow why a large part of the cars over here are equipped with winter tires that feature metal spikes.

Google Ate My Privacy Today

This morning I spotted Google’s Street View car on my way to work. I actually drove in front of it for quite a while, so I hope to be able to view my obscured rear number plate on Google Maps in the near future. If you wonder what our local Google camera car looks like here’s the evidence (and yes, I even blurred their number plate, just to be fair):

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Now devour, Google, devour.

Pickeling Pixbuf Pixel Arrays

After lots of googling, I finally figured how to pickle a gtk.gdk.Pixbuf‘s pixel array. I was looking for a way to pickle a Pixbuf’s image data into a file easily. The original C API provides a dedicated interface for that, unfortunately the pygtk developers seem to believe that there is no need to support it with the Python binding. So I tried to get access to the image data through the Pixbuf’s pixel_array property. Unfortunately this will yield an unpickleable standard Python array instance if you import gtk only. If you also import Numeric (assuming you have it available) a call to get_pixel_array() will yield a Numeric array instance instead and Numeric arrays are very well pickleable.

Hopefully this will speed up other people’s googling.

DVB-C HD

Now that I finally have a fix to lousy QAM256 reception with my good old TT-C2300 (btw, if you own a CableStar device, please test the patch, I really think it should be applied as I know quite a few people hitting this issue), I decided to give H.264 reception a try. In order to enable vdr-1.6.0 to receive those streams you will have to apply the HD patch from Reinhard Nissl. For DVB-C the second version of the patch is sufficient as DVB-S2 is a non-issue here.

For the hardy VDR package applying the patch meant that I had to drop the jumpplay patch as that had conflict and I didn’t bother resolving it. Once you have the patched VDR up and running you will have to add a H.264 channel to your channels.conf manually. Luckily there’s one FTA HD channel available over here: Anixe HD.

Now, the good news is that VDR will successfully tune the channel and also record the stream containing H.264 video and AC3 audio. Unfortunately no software player is able to playback the file. MPlayer seems to be unable to parse the TS stream and xine segfaults when trying to decode the H.264 stream. Before crashing it will complain that interlaced PAFF is not implemented in ffmpeg, which is a known issue when you – like me – own a AVCHD camcorder.

As I know these issues are heavily being worked on I built a fresh MPlayer from SVN as that will also pull the ffmpeg trunk. The bad news is that MPlayer is still not capable to detect the video inside the TS stream, however, the good news is that when I tested the new build on a few of my AVCHD M2TS files the PAFF warnings had vanished! w00t! There were a few minor errors and my old desktop is still too slow for fluent playback, but it seems like once I have a new, more powerful system up and running I might actually be able to playback (and edit?) my AVCHD recordings.

And once I get xine to use the current ffmpeg trunk I might even be able to watch HDTV via DVB-C.