HTPC Ubuntu 10.10 Upgrade


Yesterday i started upgrading the HTPC to Ubuntu 10.10. I was having some problems with audio (no doubt related to pulseaudio….) and i had a bunch of updates waiting to be installed that i didn’t dare install. I have this nagging feeling that every time i do an apt-get upgrade, something breaks in XBMC. Might just be a feeling. Might not. Anyway. I started with a clean install of 10.10, installing propietary codecs and updates from the web during the install. After the installation, i tried to remove pulseaudio. I did an apt-get remove –purge pulseaudio, which still left some libraries like libpulse0 and others. I tried removing them by hand, but that resulted in some dependency-errors. Further trying to remove that resulted in me not having a stable gnome desktop to log into. It started GDM, but after that i just got returned to the login window. I did an apt-get install ubuntu-desktop, and a reboot, which fixed the problem. Then again apt-get remove pulseaudio, and left it at that.

After that i added a few PPA’s to keep my Nvidia and ALSA-drivers current. Alsa works better with XBMC, handling both Dolby Digital, DTS, as well as MP3 and other stereo audio. The latest Nvidia drivers have not always been problem-free, but i decided to give them a try. The PPA’s i added were from this, and this site, and the complete commands were:

/ some dependencies first /
sudo apt-get install dkms python-software-properties

sudo reboot 

/ after the reboot install the nvidia drivers /

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install nvidia-current nvidia-settings

/installing the audio drivers/

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-audio-dev/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install linux-alsa-driver-modules-$(uname -r)

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/unstable
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install linux-sound-base alsa-base alsa-utils

After this, i rebooted, and ran sudo alsamixer. This starts a console-based mixer-application, that you can use to un-mute required outputs. Sometimes tihs is needed to get audio out at all, if you’re using for instance HDMI (i haven’t tried this), or say some analog output.

Then i added the XBMC ppa, which allows me to install the latest version.

/ some dependencies /
sudo apt-get install python-software-properties pkg-config
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:team-xbmc
sudo apt-get update
/ and the actual xbmc packages /
sudo apt-get install xbmc xbmc-standalone

Finally, starting XBMC produced an error that i didn’t have the required packages for hardware acceleration installed. I downloaded the libvdpau package, which cleared the problem.

XBMC seemed really well configured at this point already, because sound worked out of the box (thank you and goodbye pulse, and thank you alsa). Also, video acceleration was configured correctly out of the box. This is a stark difference to some of the old old versions of XBMC i had once installed.

I tried some playback already, but not in the living room with the amplifier and TV, so that’s up for later today. The current setup i have is:

  • Samsung 40B535 40″ LCD television
  • Harman/Kardon AVR-235 amplifier
  • HTPC
    • Silverstone HTPC-case, incl. 120W power supply (model Lascala SST-LC19S-R) – Current price 173€
    • ASUS AT3N7A-I motherboard with an Intel Atom processor (dual core 1,6 GHz), Nvidia ION chipset/graphics – Current price 155€
    • 2GB DDR2 memory – Current price 28€
    • 1 TB Western Digital Green hard drive – Current price 58€
    • Totally 414€ with current prices
  • Connectivity
    • HTPC -> TV with HDMI
    • HTPC -> Amplifier with SPDIF (optical cable)
    • Wireless Logitech mouse with the Universal Nano Receiver (model M215, red)
    • Wireless Logitech keyboard (an older Logitech Comfort)
    • Network: 1Gbit through an HP Procurve 1400-series switch

Things to note here. The price of the entire thing hasn’t gone down much in a year or so, which is pretty curious. You can get better ION motherboards now, so that’s probably something i’d change. Maybe with WLAN or more i/o ports? Perhaps. The case i am pleased with, though it could be entirely passive. The ION/Atom combo, plus the mechanical hard drive create a lot of heat,  and i think that this set couldn’t run without the CPU fan.

I would also switch to a bigger HD, since the amount of media has exploded. A 2TB drive is like 10 bucks more, or so. 3TB drives have just been released, though they are still rather expensive.

A remote control would be nice, but i’ve yet to spend any time researching that. I’m pretty good with just the mouse so far. I don’t need that far of an integration to the living room. It’s still a computer to me, and not an appliance.

The final afterthought goes toward a Blu-ray drive. The case fits a slim Blu-ray drive. The price of such a device is like 100-200€ depending on the model (i’m not sure they all fit?). I’ve read many positive reports that say Blu-Rays work just fine with Ubuntu + XBMC, but i have no first-hand experience. I may go this route, or i may just stick with the PS3, which seems like a great player.

Vendor Fandom

Why is it that people are so god damn in love with their favorite vendors? Is advertising to blame? Are geeks inherently just stubborn motherfuckers? Probably. Let’s do a quick dive into this issue.

At work, i often find that people are stuck with one brand, one OS or one technological solution for one reason or another. I’m pretty much agnostic. I like to have the solution that works best for the problem. There are people at every company (i’m willing to wager) who are in a position to make decisions, and who make those decisions based purely on “what they think is right”. Objectivity is simply not on the menu. Shit, i know a few people myself.

Sure, for like random Joe-Bob on the corner you can use your own biased opinion to say “Go out and buy X, it’s good”. But when you are working in a corporate environment, your own opinion can weigh in, but your personal fandom toward a specific solution or vendor, which are usually unfounded, should not be a deciding factor.

I’m guilty as charged: I used to think Cisco is the go-to solution for anything network related. Or EMC for storage solutions. What we should do is, look at the problem at hand: what does the client need done, and what’s the budget. Then look at the solutions available using those as parameters. Then use past experience, peer reviews and other metrics to come to a more final conclusion. The process is often shortened to “I like Solaris, so we’ll offer a Solaris based solution”, even if it is not the best, performance- or feature-wise. The client comes to you, expecting that you have the necessary know-how to bring them the best solution. After all, that’s why they came to you, and didn’t do it themselves. So when you come up with your solution, and the client doesn’t know better, he’ll go for the solution because you said so. The question remains: Why did you say so?

A lot of other things factor in of course. How will the devices / solutions be supported? Does the service provider have the necessary people with the needed know-how to use the equipment being sold? Is it the most cost-effective solution, while still providing the minimum requirement? Decisionmaking is a process that can be very personified. One guy gives the go-ahead. He might be the IT-manager, or some senior sysadmin that people trust. I say that in most cases that trust should be evaluated. Especially the people who have been in the IT industry a long time tend to get really bogged down with what they like, discarding all other metrics when they make decisions. They are the guys who get the job done, sure, but what are the long-term costs of their input?

The other option is perhaps worse, where decisionmaking becomes this huge process, involving dozens of people, meetings, commitees, etc. But a simple review of what is being done, before someone hits the “Order!” or “Sell!” button could save the service provider and the client from a lot of trouble down the line.

The problem lies perhaps in organizational structure. The sales guys want to sell, because their salary is dependant on the deals the close. They don’t have the technical knowhow. They ask the technical guys. The technical guys tend to be biased for the wrong reasons. In internal processes, the final go-ahead comes from the IT-manager, or equivalent person, who can overrule or veto any suggestion or decision made further down the line. Often to the dismay of everyone else. He’s not the one who has to support the devices or products down the line. He just gives the final go-ahead.

Ok this is a very disorganized post, i realize this. But you may be able to dig out somewhat of a point that i’m trying to get across here. Pay attention to the decisions around you, and at least sometimes stop and ask why something is being done. Our industry is in one giant hurry to go somewhere, so perhaps stopping every now and then wouldn’t be such a bad idea?


My review and thoughts on The Social Network

Alright, so on to other things from my previous “serious” posts. I finally rented The Social Network yesterday (on DVD no less. They were out of Blu-Rays. How passé). It was kind of a hard movie to get hold of. It seems a lot of people have been renting it recently.

The movie runs about two hours, but it felt a lot longer, for some reason. It basically tells “the story” of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and the worlds youngest billionaire. I haven’t read too much about the movie, so i’m not sure to which degree it represents the true story of facebook. In any case, i found myself laughing at times, but on the other hand, feeling very sad for the Mark character. Whether he is a douche in real life.. who knows? A few people maybe. I’m guessing a lot of NDA’s have been signed, people have moved on and so on.

The technology in the movie is fairly accurate. The movie fires off with a bunch of tech-talk with Mark downloading images off Harvard univesity websites, and doing some scripting to grab other images. It felt authentic, and i didn’t see any “in your face”-problems with the stuff that was happening on screen. Mark used a laptop with KDE, which was cool. It wasn’t MovieOS 3.1 or something. He used editors to write code. He talked about Mozilla. Apache. MySQL. It was fun to watch for once; not having to cringe everytime the geek character opens his yapper.

The Mark Zuckerberg in the movie is portrayed as an obsessive, almost manic character. He talks fast, and i can see the thought-patterns forming in his head before he speaks the line. He sort of plays chess with whomever he is talking to, anticipating the underlying meaning (sometimes incorrectly, mostly not) and answering the underlying question, as opposed to the one asked. He is portrayed as verbally humiliating many people with his witty rhetorics. It’s fun to watch. I could somehow relate to the character. I often find discussions boring, and people to be very hypocritical and careful when they are talking. It’s boring to try to decipher what people are actually trying to say. Why can’t we all just say what we mean, instead of what we think the other guy wants to hear? If you want to be a dick, be so to my face, and don’t try to hide behind quick quips and facetious smiles. People see through those, you know?

I found myself out of breath many times, because of the speed at which the Mark character is talking. His mind works like a parallel processor, and it’s fun to watch. His manerisms get him into a lot of trouble with other people, which is kind of the premise of the movie. “Make 500 million friends, but end up with a few enemies in the process too”.

The character portrayed by Justin Timberlake was easily the second best in the movie. He played Sean Parker, co-inventor of Napster and various other internet ventures. Not to be confused with Shawn Fanning, also inventor of Napster, but entirely a different guy. The real life Parker has commented that he is nothing like the character in the movie, and that it is entirely a work of fiction. He does own 7% of Facebook, apparently, so he has been involved, but he commented that he wishes his life was as cool as it was portrayed in the movie. The Parker-character is an obvious comic relief, but also kind of an antagonist, a money-grabbing opportunist, drug user and troublemaker. I still found myself liking the portrayal a lot, and i think more highly of Timberlake having seen this movie. A great role.

All in all, it makes a good point. If you have certain characteristics, you are not easy to approach. You may be the most skilled hacker in the world, but if your people-skills suck, you’ll die alone. Rich, but alone. The question is, do you want to live your dream, or be someone you’re not? Facebook has over 500 million members. What started out as an “exclusive” invite only club, is now a common household name. And at the center of this company, valued at 25 billion dollars, is Mark Zuckerberg. Perhaps a lonely guy with more money than he can ever hope to use. Maybe he has lots of friends, and is nothing like the movie portrays him as? I think he’s the sort of distant guy, who you hear talk about, you see in pictures, but who you never truly know. Kind of the personification of the American, capitalist dream. But still too distant to make out. A modern enigma.