Category Archives: Ubuntu

New Motherboard: ASUS Z97-A (and Ubuntu)

My old desktop was seeing random drive errors on multiple drives, including a drive I only got a few months ago. And since my motherboard was about 5 years old, I decided it was time to replace it.

I asked the KWLUG mailing list if they had any advice on picking motherboards. The consensus seems to be pretty much “it’s still a crapshoot.” But I bit the bullet and reported back:

I bought a motherboard! An ASUS Z97-A

Mostly because I wanted Intel integrated graphics and I’ve got 3 monitors it needs to drive. And I was hoping the mSATA SSD card I got to replace the one in my Dell Mini 9 (that didn’t work) would fit in the m.2 slot. It doesn’t. Oh well.

I wanted to get it all set up while I was off for Canada Day. Except Canada Computers didn’t have any of my preferred CPU options. So I’ll be waiting for that to come in via NewEgg.

I gave myself a budget of about $500 for mobo, CPU and RAM and I’ll end up going over a little bit (mostly tax and shipping), and tried to build the best machine I could for that.

One of the things I did this time that I hadn’t done before was spec out a desktop machine at System76 and used that as a starting point. System76 is more explicit about things like chipsets for desktops than Zareason is. Which would be great, except they’re using the older H87 chipsets.

…Like the latest Ars System Guide Hot Rod But that’s over 6 months old now. And >they’re balancing their budget against having to buy a graphics card, which I don’t want to do.

I still have some unanswered questions about the Z97 chipset. It’s only been out for about a month. So who knows?

My laptop has mostly been my desktop for the last few years. But I want to knock that off because I’ve been developing back and neck problems. My desktop layout is okay ergonomically, at least better than anything I have for the laptop (including and especially my easy chair with a lapdesk, which is comfy, but kind of horrible on the neck). One of the things that’s holding me back is my desktop is 5 years old and was built cheap because I was mostly using it as a server by that point. I really want to make it something I want to use over the laptop (which is a very nice laptop). Which is why I ended up going somewhat upper-mid range.

That’s one of the nice things about building from parts, despite the lack of useful information: This is the 3rd motherboard I’ve put in this case. I replaced the PSU once a couple years ago so it’s quite sufficient to handle the new stuff. I’m keeping my old harddrives. I could keep the graphics card. I’ll need to buy an adapter for the DVD burner (and I’ve yet to decide if I’m going to do that, or buy a new SATA one or just go without). And I can keep my (frankly pretty awesome) monitors. So $500 gets me a kick-ass whole new machine.

Anyway, long story short, I still have a lot of questions about whether this was the best purchase, but I’m hopeful it’s a good one.

Aside: is Canada Computers really the only store in town that keeps desktop CPUs in stock anymore? I couldn’t get into the UW Tech Shop, but since they’re mostly iPads and crap now, I’m not optimistic. Computer XS doesn’t (at least the Waterloo one). Future Shop and Best Buy don’t. I even went into Neutron for the first time in over 15 years. Nope. Nobody.

It… didn’t go as well as I’d hoped:

So, anyway, I got the motherboard, CPU and put it all in my old case.

I booted up and all three monitors came up without any fuss, which has never happened for me. Awesome! This is great!

Then I tried to play game.

Apparently the current snd_intel_hda ALSA drivers don’t like H97 and Z97 chipsets. The sound was staticky, crackly and distorted.

I’ve spent more than a few hours over the last week hunting around for a fix. I installed Windows on a spare harddrive to make sure it wasn’t a hardware problem (for which I needed to spend the $20 to get a new SATA DVD drive so I could run the Windows driver disk to actually get actual video, networking and sound support :P). And I found this thing on the Arch WIki which, while not fixing the problem, did actually make it worse, leading me to conclude there was some sort of sound driver/pulseaudio problem.

Top tip: when trying to sort out sound driver problems for specific hardware the best thing to do is search for the hardware product id (in my case “8ca0”). That’s how I found this:

Hurray! The workaround works great and now I’m back in business!

So I got burned by going with the bleeding edge, and I should know better. But, even though the information isn’t widely diseminated yet, there is a fix. And a workaround. I’m sure Ubuntu 14.10 will have no problem with it. It’s not as bad as the bleeding edge was years ago. If the fix was easier to find (and I’m going to work on that), it was easier getting going with Ubuntu than it was with Windows.

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

So everybody’s really excited about Heartbleed and now we’re seeing helpful folks on social media urging all their friends and family to change their passwords.

Leaving aside that your Instagram password is probably one of the least interesting things an attacker might get through Heartbleed, changing your password will only help you until the next time a security breach leaks a (hopefully) hashed password database.

Passwords alone aren’t good enough for security anymore. Fortunately, more and more sites have implemented two-factor authentication or two-step verification.

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Unity’s Sticky Monitor Edges in Ubuntu 12.04 beta1

A couple months ago, the Canonical Design Team asked for feedback on a new multi-monitor Launcher set-up on their blog. People had complained that if you had a whole bunch of monitors, mousing all the way over to the top-left one to access the launcher was kind of annoying, so they wanted to do something about it. Fair enough.

I tried out their prototype. Their solution involved putting a launcher on every monitor. Okay, sure. But what surprised me was by default they caused the mouse to stop at the monitor boundary unless you move the mouse above a certain speed.

I didn’t like this very much. Good thing I was involved in the design process and caught it early! They asked for feedback in blog comments, so I left one.

Please, I asked, provide a way for me to disable this feature. I don’t use the launcher very much and it’s more important to me that I can move smoothly and seamlessly between applications on different monitors. I like Unity because it gets out of my way and lets me work. This will get in my way.

I upgraded to beta1 today for the Global Jam. I was disappointed to see my request seems to have been ignored. So I’ve posted a bug. And I’ve changed the request slightly: please just give me a config setting somewhere that allows me to pass between monitors without being hindered. Maybe it’s really hard to implement an option to turn off per-monitor launchers and that’s why my suggestion was ignored. Who knows?

To illustrate the issue (since it’s easier to show than to explain), I made a short video using a two-monitor setup. It’s a bit rambly and could probably use editing, but I think it eventually gets the point across. Also, you probably want to watch it in at least 720p and full-screen.

Click here to watch video on YouTube.

PS: To the Unity hataz: I know that by posting something like this I’m going to get a tonne of “Unity/Canonical/Ubuntu/all y’all sucks!” and “You should use $FAVOURITE_WINDOW_MANAGER!” comments. I use Unity and I like it. I want to keep using Unity. Thanks, though. If you’ve found something you like better, great! Keep using it! I’m glad you’re happy with it. I’m aware of the alternatives. But maybe you could post your on your own blog saying that $FAVOURITE_WINDOW_MANAGER has some cool feature or other or some annoying bug you don’t like, and I can learn more about it that way. Maybe even with a cool video! That’d be great!

A Video Lens for Canada: My new goal for the Global Jam

The new video lens in Ubuntu 12.04 features searchable content from across the Internet. It also shows region-specific content, like the BBC iPlayer if you’re in the UK.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the video lens gave Canadians access to videos from the CBC, CTV, NFB animations and documentaries or Comedy Channel shows like The Colbert Report? I think it would!

Now, I foresee a number of possibly insurmountable problems from the start.

  1. I have no idea how the Ubuntu video lens project is managed or how welcoming they are of contributions.
  2. Or what sort of guidelines they’re looking at for adding content channels.
  3. Or how ridiculously complicated they’ve made it to add new channels.
  4. I will be very surprised if any of the above-mentioned sites have publicly-accessible APIs I’d likely need to support this.
  5. Or what policies they might have that would that prevent using their content in this way.

Other than that, it should be easy!

Does anyone out there in Ubuntu Planet land have any suggestions or insight that might help overcoming the difficulties above? Comment here! Or poke me (dscassel) in #ubuntu-ca on Freenode.

Ubuntu Global Jam this Saturday!

This Saturday, join the Jam!

The Waterloo Region Chapter of Ubuntu Canada will be jamming at Kwartzlab in Kitchener

What’s an Ubuntu Global Jam, you ask? Well! This video may help give you an idea:

Or you can read this interview I did with Charles Proffitt of the New York LoCo Team.

Basically, we’ll be trying out the first Ubuntu 12.04 beta (to be released this week!), triaging bugs, fixing things, working on artwork and promotional materials and anything else that we feel can help Ubuntu be better than ever. If you don’t have a computer you can bring, we have some at the lab you can test with.

We’ll also have drinks for sale, order out for food and maybe break out a game of Hedgewars or Teeworlds. Because games need testing too!

See you there!