Archive for May, 2010

Setting the bitrate when Rhythmbox creates MP3 files

Friday, May 14th, 2010

To change the bitrate for Rhythmbox MP3 rips of CDs, I followed the suggestions offered by Peter Anselmo.

Open “Preferences” from the “Edit” menu
Select the “Edit” button to the right of “Preferred Format”
Select “CD Quality, MP3″ from the menu and hit “Edit”
Under the “Gstreamer pipeline” field you will find the following:

audio/x-raw-int,rate=44100,channels=2 ! lame name=enc mode=0 vbr-quality=6 ! id3v2mux

To remove the default, remove the vbr-quality=6 statement, and replace it with vbr=0 bitrate=256. This will change it from variable to constant bit rate, and set it to 256 kb/s. You can set it to whatever bit rate you prefer, I like 256. You line should now look like the following:

audio/x-raw-int,rate=44100,channels=2 ! lame name=enc mode=0 vbr=0 bitrate=256 ! id3v2mux

Close the window, and Viola! You’ll now rip CDs at a higher quality

Abiword, AbiCollab

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Abiword slowly improves as a lightweight work processor. In theory, Abiword works on several operating systems, including Windows, several flavors of Linux or Unix, MacOs, BeOs, or something called QNX. Its developers now have a service called AbiCollab, which stores documents in the cloud, and allows collaborative editing. It is a competitor to services like Google Docs, and has the advantage that you can edit the documents offline. What seems unfortunate is that Abiword’s default file form is not ODF, although it can save to about 20 formats, including ODF (.odt) and Office Open XML (.docx), and read from several of them.

Now that Oracle owns Sun, including the team that managed OpenOffice, and has started charging $90 for a plug-in to use ODF files in Microsoft Office, it would be good if projects like Abiword continue to improve, so people don’t feel so depended upon a single company.

Recommended programs to add after a Ubuntu 10.04 installation

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

For my friends and co-workers doing a fresh install of Ubuntu 10.04, these are the programs I would recommend adding:

Tier 1
For me, the first group of additions I would recommend are the following:


  • Ubuntu restricted extras (highly recommended package that adds the fonts and media drivers you will surely want)
  • Adobe Reader (Still the best way to read PDF files)

Recommended Graphics, Multimedia Applications

  • The Gimp: (No longer part of the base installation for Ubuntu)
  • Gimp Data Extras
  • VLC: VLC plays MPEG, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, MOV, WMV, QuickTime, mp3, Ogg/Vorbis files, DVDs, VCDs, and multimedia streams from various network sources.

Useful Utilities

  • Gpass (Manage a collection of passwords in an encrypted file, protected by a master-password)
  • grsync (A GTK+ front end to rsync, a backup program)
  • gftp-gtk (for the gFTP program)

Tier 2
These programs, which are available from the Ubuntu repositories, are probably not for everyone, but I find them useful.

  • The Bluefish editor
  • Wine (To run some Windows programs within Linux environment)
  • R (My favorite statistics program)
  • Cheese (Not necessarily a program you will use much, but Cheese often fixes driver problems for webcams)
  • Google Chromium web browser

These programs are available from third parties, and I find them very useful.

  • Skype
  • Picasa: From Google
  • Adobe Air: Installation will be a challenge for some but it is worth it, if just to run Tweetdeck.
  • Tweetdeck: I love this tool to monitor twitter. It requires Adobe Air.

Tier 3

  • Oracle/Sun’s Virtualbox (I use this to run Windows XP, Microsoft Office/2007, and some other Windows programs). It is surprisingly easy to run Windows and Windows application within Ubuntu 10.04 using this program.
  • Shotwell: A way to view your pictures organized by dates, that you can use without changing the underlying directories for the pictures.
  • Abiword: A smaller word processor than OpenOffice.Org.

Verizon billing issues

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

In looking at some Verizon bills at work, I noticed we were paying $.20 to $22 per minute to call European land lines, despite having paid for a plan that promised much lower rates. From my home phone I pay about $.03 per minute for calls to Europe. We were also paying about $.11 per minute to call long distance in the United States — higher than a pre-paid phone from T-Mobile. Verizon promised to fix some but not all of the overcharges, but only going back 90 days. This isn’t the first time we have had problems with Verizon. Not surprisingly, all of the errors in our bill work to the advantage of Verizon, and to our disadvantage. Apparently we have to audit the bill every couple of months (or we pass the 90 day rule on refunds for overcharges).

Oracle’s VirtualBox on Ubuntu 10.04, to run Windows applications

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Today I spend just a few hours with Oracle’s VirtualBox, and was able to install a copy of Windows XP, and Microsoft Office 2007, on a Dell XPS 1530 running Ubuntu 10.04. The manual for the Virtualbox is 302 pages, but I was able to do the installation without reading the manual, and everything worked as I expected it to.

My reason for doing this was to have access from time to time to programs that do not run in Ubuntu. While I love working with Linux, and encourage other to move to Linux platforms, there are times when it is useful to run Windows programs.

The incompatibility of document formats continues, as ever, to be a challenge for those who collaborate with others. Microsoft’s entire dominance in the word processing field is based upon the lack of workable open standards in document formats. I support the Open Document Format (ODF), and was distressed by Oracle’s recent decision to charge $90 for the Sun ODF plug-in for office.

Because I often try to work on documents with people who only use Microsoft Office, and Open Office documents saved as .doc files sometimes look strange when viewed in Microsoft Word, I wanted to be able fix formatting issues in Word. (This is not the world I want to live in, but it is the world I do live in).

I downloaded a free binary copy of Oracle’s VirtualBox, for Ubuntu 10.04. The software installed in Ubuntu without a hitch. I then connected my laptop to an external CD drive, and from the Virtual Box, created a 10 gig virtual drive, with a copy of Windows XP. I had an extra serial number from a copy of Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007. I then downloaded a copy of the software from, and it installed without any problems at all, in the virtual box. I didn’t have to edit any configuration files or download any drivers. It just worked.

I was able to change the screen resolution in the window where Windows runs. It is not as fast as a native installation, but it is fast enough on this machine to work with a document and fix formating issues. It is certainly much more robust in terms of installations that Wine is for now.

I might also try adding a copy of Turbotax, or some other applications that do not yet run on Linux.

I was able to install the Windows Genuine Advantage software, and things still worked fine. So far the only program I have had trouble with is Apple’s iTunes, which crashes. Apple’s Safari browser and Quicktime work fine, however.

Is Oracle trying to Kill the Open Document Format standard?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Why is Oracle now charging $90 for a plug-in to read Open Document Format (ODF) files in Microsoft Office? Is this a way of saying Oracle wants to kill OpenOffice.Org? And what does such a move suggest for the future of Java or MySQL?

Dell Vostro v13, with Ubuntu 10.04

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Earlier, I installed Ubuntu 10.04 on a Dell XPS M1530. Now I tried it on a Dell Vostro v13. The installation went well, but there were a couple of issues that needed to be fixed.

One thing that caused problems was libmoon, the unstable version of Moonlight, which is a free Silverlight clone. It crashed Firefox. Removing the package fixed the problem.

A second issue concerned the initial setting for the internal microphone. The default installation found the microphone and the video cam, but it set the microphone on mute. Once I unchecked the mute setting, it worked fine with Skype and other services.

Ubuntu 10.04 on a Dell XPS M1530

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I took the plunge and installed Ubuntu 10.04. I have a Dell XPS M1530, which was running Ubuntu 9.10. The m1530 has the nVidia GeForce 8600 M video card, a very high resolution monitor, a built in webcam, bluetooth, and lots of higher end features.

The Ubuntu upgrade from 9.10 to 10.04 as a mess for me. Firefox would not start. The theme wasn’t working right, etc. So I did a fresh install.

Check list for fresh install

Before doing a fresh install, I try to remember to do the following:

  • Backup up my home directory, including the hidden files. I particularly don’t want to miss my .tomboy and .gpass directories. (After the fresh install, I copy .tomboy and .gpass to my new home directory, and make sure the ownership settings are correct, using the chown command.)
  • Backup my Evolution mail, using the non-intuitive: /File/Backup Settings option, which not only backs up your Evolution mail settings, but also all of your Evolution mail files.
  • Sync my Mozilla weave and Google Chrome settings, and remember how to resync them properly after the refresh install.

The New Installation

For the most part, the fresh install went very smoothly. Most things worked right way, and it does look much better than Ubuntu 9.10.

What did not work?

I could not install any printers. What was the problem? The print service CUPS had not been started. This was not obvious to fix. The old /System/Administration/Services menu had disappeared. So I had to open a terminal and run this command:

sudo service cups start

That fixed the printer problem.

Next, I wanted to deal with the webcam, which was not recognized in the installation. The fix, which I had used in an earlier Ubuntu release, was to install cheese, and to reboot the computer. Now the web cam not only works, it works much better than it did before, at least with cheese and Skype. However, the webcam is not recognized by Camorama.

(On a related note, the internal microphone worked just fine with Skype, without having to fix the settings.)

Additional Software

From the (/System/Administration> Synaptic package manager, I added the following packages:

Ubuntu restricted extras (highly recommended package that adds the fonts and media drivers you will surely want)
Moonlight (a free Silverlight clone, that I deleted, because the unstable version sometimes crashes Firefox)
Gpass (Manage a collection of passwords in an encrypted file, protected by a master-password)
Wine (To run some Windows programs within Linux environment)
Bluefish editor
The Gimp (No longer part of the base installation for Ubuntu)
Gimp Data Extras
gftp (an FTP client)
R (My favorite statistics program)
Adobe Reader
Camorama (did not work)

Separately, I also installed:

Adobe Air
Google’s picasa
Google’s Chrome Browser
Opera’s Brower

Issues with the new software

  • Google’s Chrome browser runs fine, but the Gnome themes do not work the same way for Chrome as for other applications. In Ubuntu 10.04, the windowing buttons are now on the left, except for the Chrome Browser, where they are still on the right.
  • Some of Skype’s menus are dark and hard to read, but you can manage using the cursor.
  • The /System/Preferences/Appearance application does not show you what you will actually see, in some cases.

Is the Upgrade worth it?
I started using Ubuntu regularly in 2006. Every Ubuntu upgrade has been worth it, in my opinion, including this one. But it did take a fair amount of time to get things the way I wanted, and I’m still not sure how some things work.

Some things to like in 10.04

(I imagine some if not all of these worked in earlier versions).

I find the following keyboard short cuts useful:

Super + A – show all open windows in all workspaces
Super + W – show all open windows in current workspaces
Super + E – show all workspaces
Super + N – Change colors in current window
Super + M – Change colors in all windows