Running Real’s Rhapsody in Linux

Every once in a while I have to put something actually useful up here. I just spent a while trying to get Rhapsody to work in Firefox 3 under Ubuntu 8.10. Having an entire music store at my disposal is one of the things I miss most from my Windows machine when I need to run something under linux. There is a web version of Rhapsody that should run under linux, but I kept getting “Technical Issue” errors in the Rhapsody plugin every time I tried to play a song. It would tell me to restart, but would never work, even after a restart. It turns out I had an old version of the Rhapsody plug in laying around, and didn’t have a proper version of Adobe’s Flash player installed (the new version of the web-based Rhapsody client just uses Flash). Apparently, Rhapsody either doesn’t, or can’t, check the version of the plug-in installed on your machine, and if it’s the old version it will try to use it and fail. So, to get Rhapsody working first go to the following two directories

~/.mozilla/plugins
/usr/lib/firefox/plugins

and make sure you delete any file with the name nprhapengine.so. Then, in Synaptic (or whatever package manager you like) make sure you’re running the actual official Adobe version of Flash 10. Ubuntu, being produced by ideologues (didn’t think I’d be able to write about linux without taking a shot, did you?), makes it hard to install software built by evil monolithic companies. So, if you have Flash installed, it’s probably a buggy “free-as-in-doesn’t-work” version. Do a search for “adobe flash” in Synaptic and uninstall any currently installed free versions. Then, install the flashplugin-nonfree package. (If you don’t find that package, leave a comment and I’ll help you make it available to Synaptic.)

After that, restart Firefox. Rhapsody should now work using their excellent Flash-based client.

(By the way, I was able to get the full Rhapsody client running in WINE, and was even able to play 30 second clips. However, it wouldn’t let me login, saying that cookies were being blocked. If anybody has been able to overcome that, I’d love to hear about it.)

Major bug in Ubuntu 8.10 networking for static IP addresses

There is a bug in the new version of Ubuntu (8.10, or Intrepid Ibex), where static IP network settings are lost after every reboot. Kind of makes it hard to connect to your box remotely with ssh.

Pretty big bug, huh? You’d think it would be rather embarrassing when your latest operating system release breaks the internet for a large proportion of your users. You’d assume this would be high priority, right? Nope. Until recently, the bug was considered only Medium priority since there were workarounds, even though they were completely nonintuitive and nothing a basic user could ever figure out by themselves. Worse, Ubuntu 8.10 has been out for months now, and this still hasn’t been fixed, and probably won’t be for a long time. (In fact, it will end up being fixed in the next version of Ubuntu before they backport the solution to 8.10.)

This bug exposes a fundamental flaw in the Linux distribution development model, wherein the people releasing the operating system don’t actually write, or even understand, the various components they are packaging. If this bug came up in Vista, Microsoft could have it fixed in less than a week, because the guy that wrote their network manager actually works there. Of course, Microsoft tests their products before sending them out the door, so it wouldn’t have happened to begin with.

A lot of the people using Ubuntu 8.10 are going to turn tail and run back to Daddy Gates when they encounter this bug. They aren’t going to check bug tracking sites to figure out what’s going wrong, or look into work-arounds. So, you can ratchet the Linux market share down just a little bit more. At this point, the idea that Linux will take over the computing world is actually becoming downright laughable from the perspective of anybody who hasn’t been drinking a lot of kool-aid.

I’ve asked this question before, but why spend so much time developing Linux only to not bother to actually put out a quality product? If these folks are so inclined to spend time programming a mediocre operating system for free, why not just volunteer at Microsoft? At least that might actually help people.

(In case you found this page looking for a solution to the problem, instead of a pointless rant about it, I offer the following two solutions, in order of decreasing utility. The most obvious solution, assuming you value your time at something north of minimum wage, is to simply install a usable OS built by professionals who actually have something to lose were they to release an operating system with such an astoundingly egregious bug. If you’re too cheap for that, or suffer from Linux Masochistic Personality Disorder and absolutely must get this working, you can always edit your network settings by hand.)

Maybe there is something to astrology…

With the impending birth of my first child coming up in late May, I decided to see if there was anything to astrology. I did a survey of famous people of substance whom I respect: Richard Feynman, Obama, John Adams, Einstein, Ron Paul, Ayn Rand, Margaret Thatcher, etc. It turns out they all, every single one of them, had birthdays in the Fall or Winter, with a few in Spring. Not a single one in June or July.

Kookery about planetary alignment aside, might the environment of the child’s first experiences shape their thinking? I can’t imagine any baby whose first impressions of the world consist of pool parties and people in hot pants turning out to be a person of substance. But maybe my observations were just due to the fact that people simply have less babies in the Summer for some wierd social reason?

As a control I then did birthday checks of the worst human beings I could think of: Pamela Anderson, Jessica Simpson, Tom Cruise, Kanye West, Courtney Love, George Bush, and the worst person to walk the planet since Hitler: Linsday Lohan. Their birth months? June, June, July, June, June, July and July. Incidentally, George Bush is the only world leader I could find who was born in either June or July.

This isn’t scientific, but nor did I have to cherry pick. This shit is real. Gestate faster, Michele!

Update: I’m relieved to find out that a few good friends were born in June. So, astrology is rebunked. But July is still highly suspect…

Final Update: Alex just squeaked in before the buzzer, born May 28th, 2009. Good boy, Alex.

Thanks to Dikipedia.org for help with the research for this article.

A new problem with the iPhone: stress cracks

I noticed a crack in the back of my iPhone, between the mute button and the metal bezel. It just appeared, not caused by a drop or anything. Looking online, this is happening to a lot of people. The reason why this is happening, I think, is that Apple bonded a plastic back to a metal bezel. Metal has a much higher coefficient of thermal expansion than plastic, so it’s not surprising that the plastic gets stress fractures at the weak points. Also not surprising that it happened to me during the winter, as the phone goes from

I swear, sometimes it seems like Apple is all design, no engineering. It would be nice if, in addition to the mock turtleneck-wearing crowd that runs the company, they would hire a mechanical engineer or two.

From what I’ve seen online, if you have this problem, Apple might replace your phone if it’s in otherwise pristine condition (i.e. there is no evidence you have dropped the phone).

How to get a good deal on a new car

There is an historic backlog in cars. Every day brings the dealers deeper in debt, the auto companies’ unsold inventories pile up, and the introduction of the 2010 models looms ever closer. The amount of unsold 2009 models will be astounding. So, if you’re going car shopping, just bring along a copy of this photo:

Unsold cars pile up in a British lot.
Unsold cars pile up in a British lot.

If the manager gives you any trouble, just quietly pull out this photo, and maybe a few others from the Guardian’s piece, and leave them on his desk. Stand up, point to them and say “Maybe somebody will make me a good deal on one of these.” Then slowly walk away. If he doesn’t stop you, fine. Just leave the picture with him and come back next week. After he’s stared at that picture for a week, he’ll soften up.

In all seriousness, if you are in the market for a car, wait until the 2010 models come out. You will probably be able to buy a 2009 model for an unbelievable price if you hold out for it. The automotive industry is so screwed, it’s hardly believable. They just keep churning out cars, and nobody is buying. I’m thinking of picking up a new Hummer at the end of the year and using it as an apartment.

Weird dream

So, my wife is now 22 weeks pregnant.

A few nights ago I dreamt we were allowed, by some new medical advance, to have our baby taken out early so that we could have a little meet and greet, and then he’d have to be put back in to be born normally a few weeks later. When we got to hold him, he looked like a regular baby, with his eyes tightly closed and his face scrunched up.

Then, he started to relax, and opened one eye, then he cautiousy opened the other and looked around. My wife was holding him so that he faced me, and we both got excited that he was already looking around, way ahead of schedule. He then locked eyes with me and said “Hi, Jonathan!”

“You know my name?!?” I exclaimed.

“Yes, you told it to me earlier, you’re my dad,” he replied, as if it was obvious. He then
started to try to move around and crawl, but was too weak.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “your brain has been getting good exercise with us talking to you in your mom’s belly, but your muscles haven’t been able to, what with you all squeezed in there. Speaking of that, how do you like being stuck in there all curled up in a ball?”

The baby shrugged stoicly, as if to say, “What can you do?”

“How do you feel about the fact that you gotta go back in there in a little bit?” I then asked. He shot me a wide-eyed “Say what, now?” look. The dream ended.

Additional detail: the baby had red hair and a receding hairline with a widow’s peak. He looked sort of like a miniature David Caruso. What the hell does that mean?

Zen and the Art of Linux Maintenance

As I sat watching the Ubuntu upgrade work its way through the packages, at some point the computer became unresonsive to mouse clicks. I ended up having to do a hot shutdown in the middle. As you might imagine, this completely and utterly hosed my Linux partition.

You might wonder why I keep banging my head against the wall of Linux, despite my rantings about it. So did I. As I sat starting at the kernel panic message, however, I realized something:

As much as I complain, part of me enjoys putting up with this stupid operating system, even though it long ago exausted its utility by causing me to spend so much of my time that it was no longer worth any amount of avoided software cost.

As an engineer, I like to tinker and fix things, and Linux gave me the opportunity (or rather, forced me) to delve into the workings of the OS in order to manage it. Linux provided me with the illusion of feeling useful and productive on a regular basis as it required me to put my knowledge to work fixing the never ending litany of problems.

But as I sat looking at a hosed partition, I had the embarassed, hollow feeling that I’d really wasted an extraordinary amount of time focused on my computer as an object of inherent interest, as opposed to an expedient for actual useful work. My linux machine had become a reflexive endevour, largely existing for its own purpose, like a little bonsai garden that I tended to with wearing patience.

And now what do I have for it? I have some profoundly uninteresting knowledge of the particulars of one operating system, and a munged disk that’s about as practically useful as a bonsai tree. (Yes, my actuall work is backed up, but it’s never trivial getting everything exactly the way you had it with a new system install, no matter how much you backed up.)

This was all good, though, because it ripped from my hands something I didn’t have the good sense to throw away. Rather than huddle down with an install CD and try to fix my little Linux partition, I just let it go and started to get back to work, actual work in the outside world, using Windows.*

It feels good. I’m done with operating systems as a hobby, tired of indulging technology for its own sake. One must not get too attached to things.

*I’m not trying to insult OS X, which I think is probably better than Windows. I just don’t have a Mac at work. (I can only fight one holy war at a time.)