Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Finally got around to upgrading. So far it works no worse than 16, except my fancy login screen has been replaced with some crappy username/password entry box, and encrypted swap partitions no longer work (apparently the latter is a known bug).

Here’s roughly how I did it:

1. Use the backup tool to save a list of installed applications.
2. Boot up, plug in the USB backup drive and log in to a console terminal.
3. cd /tmp and sudo -i to become root, not in my own home directory.
4. Since I have an encrypted home directory, I now want to unmount /home/emg so nothing can write to the directory while I’m backing it up. So umount /home/emg.
5. Copy /home to the backup drive. This saves an encrypted backup which can be reloaded if everything goes horribly wrong.
6. While doing that, make a list of the partitions on the disk.
7. Unmount the backup drive, unplug it, and reboot on the install disk.
8. Select to install. Select all partitions other than /home, and choose to reformat them and install.
9. Set the hostname and username, and ensure you pick the same password as you had before, so the encrypted home directory will work.
10. Install.
11. Reboot.
12. Edit /etc/fstab to mount the old home partition as /home.
13. Reboot.
14. Log in as yourself, update (in my case, I had to download about 400 upgraded packages) and finish installing the packages you need.
15. Reboot for safety. Job done.

One of the most tedious parts of preparing the paperback print-on-demand version of a book is fixing up the formatting to minimize hyphens, widows and orphans (single lines at the beginning or end of a page), and dangling words on a single line at the end of a paragraph. This is particularly difficult if you’re formatting on the cheap with a word processor rather than a proper page layout tool like InDesign.

Fortunately, LibreOffice includes some useful features which can make your life easier. I would assume other programs like Word will have similar options hidden away in their settings, too.

For example, I added a missing comma to this paragraph which used to be two lines, and it suddenly became three, leaving a dangling word at the end, and creating an orphan where it pushed the final line of the final paragraph on that page onto the next page.

Three-line paragraph

Too many lines

So, how do we fix this? Changing margins would work, but would impact the entire book. Changing font size would work, but would stand out if we reduced it by even half a point. Revising the wording would work, but it’s already about as sparse as it can be.

The answer is in the character formatting:

Width set to 98%

Character format window

The LibreOffice Character Format window has a ‘scale width’ option, which leaves the font height the same, but makes it wider or narrower. If you change this by a few percent, it will change the position of the words, but not be obvious to the reader. In this case, we’re changing it to 98%, for a tiny 2% reduction in character width.

Now only two lines.

Scaled paragraph.

Job done. We’re now back to two lines, and you can’t even see the joins.

Now, let’s look at another option. Instead of scaling the font horizontally, we could scale the entire page vertically.

Here’s the original page, with the evil paragraph which caused all this fuss:

Page with no scaling, and evil paragraph highlighted

Full-size page

So, next, we select all the text on the page, and choose paragraph formatting. If there were some dangling lines at the top of the page where a paragraph was split across a page break, we’d skip them.

Window with line spacing set to 98%

Paragraph Format window

The Paragraph Format window has a line spacing control, which lets you specify spacing as a percentage. In this case, we can set it to 98% to slightly reduce the spacing on this page.

This allows LibreOffice to move the orphan from the next page back to meet the widow on this one:

Page with line spacing scaled to 98%

Modified page

So there’s an alternate way to fix the page, without changing the paragraph. Personally, I prefer the character spacing change as this page will have one more line than the facing page, so the two will seem misaligned. But, it may be useful in some cases where you can’t fix the formatting any other way.

So there I was recently, playing Goat Simulator, as you do during boring phone calls. When I quit, I looked at my Steam library, and noticed this game, Scourge: Outbreak. I didn’t remember buying it, and turns out I didn’t.

A year or three back I got Scourge Project in some kind of Steam sale deal, and I played for five minutes and quit. Turns out that Scourge: Outbreak is a remake of that game, and they gave it free to everyone on Steam who owned the original.

I honestly couldn’t remember anything about that game, so I thought I might as well install it and give it a try.

Start it up. Unskippable ad videos telling me it uses the Unreal engine and other time-wasting crap. Ugh. Why?

Really, just why? A new player starts up your game, excited to try it, and you make them sit through a minute or so of ad videos.

Who, exactly, in the game companies thinks this is a good idea?

Starting a new game gives you a choice between four different characters, and some guff about what each one is best at, but who cares? I picked the girl, because it’s a third-person game, and I’m going to be staring at someone’s butt while playing, so it might as well be hers.

So, on to the cut-scenes. At least they’re skippable, unlike Mass Effect‘s half-hour streams of boredom. Then the optional tutorial, which demonstrates how your character walks miserably slowly on their way to shoot a few things. Which is where you first learn some of the game’s horrible flaws.

The first is that the graphics are pretty dismal, even by console standards. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much from a free game, but it delivered less. It looks as bad as Mass Effect on a bad day.

It’s another game with a ‘cover’ system requiring you to use special commands to hide behind cover, rather than just, you know, hiding behind cover. Any game that needs a cover system is just admitting that its user interface is horribly broken.

Oh, OK, it’s clearly a console game, so obviously its user interface is horribly broken.

You can only carry two weapons, because allowing you to carry more than two might be too much like fun, and that’s not allowed.

The space bar is used for jump, hide and run, and there’s no discernable way to tell which it’s going to do. The middle mouse button is used for magic shield and magic attack (they don’t call it that, but that’s basically what it is), and there’s no discernable way to tell what it’s going to do. The magic attack is powered by some magic goo that you have to collect, and about two attacks use up all your goo, so what’s the point?

Since it is a multiplayer game at heart, playing single player means you’re lumbered with three artificially stupid team-mates. The tutorial also demonstrates the really limited order system you can use to work around that artificial stupidity, but who wants to be forced to command bots in a shooter game?

There’s a lot of plot twaddle. And more plot twaddle. And something about a meteorite or something. I don’t know, because I was sick of cut-scenes and skipped it all. Not to mention that the horrible flickering in one of the cut-scenes threatened to give me an epilepsy attack. Then more cut-scenes. Then you get to walk slowly to some weird capsule thing. Then there are more cut-scenes.

So, you’re playing some super-elite soldier babe, and the tutorial has introduced you to a number of weapons that you can use, so what do you think it’s going to do now? Yes, you guessed it, it’s going to take all those weapons away from you and leave you with a pistol. Because having the weapons you want to use might be too much like fun.

Since it’s a third-person cover shooter, you spend a lot of time either being shot because you can’t go into cover behind things that are clearly quite suitable as cover, and being shot because you can’t get out of cover mode and move to where you want to move. It’s at least as bad as the awful Mass Effect games, and probably worse.

Oh, yeah, and since it’s a third person game, you also spend a lot of time shooting bullets into the wall right in front of you when you have to shoot around something the game won’t count as cover.

This is followed by walking into an area, being attacked by about a million identical, moronic bad guys, thanking the bad guys for leaving ammunition boxes randomly strewn around, but still running out and having to pick up some random weapon because you can only carry two. Then defend the area for five minutes while a thousand indistinguishable bots run toward you. Then hack a door (translation: hold ‘E’ for a few seconds) before moving onto the next area.

Then there’s a cut-scene where some guy spews some plot-twaddle, and you do the same thing again.

And crates. Did I mention crates? The one surprise in the game was walking into a few areas with crates and thinking ‘ha, there are crates, so clearly I’m going to get attacked and have to take cover’… only to not be attacked. Wow.

I should also mention that the reason you run out of ammunition is because the indistinguishable bad guys take about three thousand hits each to kill. You keep blasting away at them from close range with an assault rifle, and, after you kill half a dozen, no more bullets.

Then there’s lack of a save system. It randomly saves at checkpoints, so, if you get bored and want to quit, be prepared to have to fight through the same mob of identical enemies again to get back to where you were.

I could go on, but I quit before finishing the first level. From the screenshots, it looks like things might get interesting later on, but I couldn’t find the enthusiasm to play through the boring parts to get there.

It’s not an awful game, it didn’t crash, it doesn’t expect you to pay to win, but it’s just mediocre. Everything it does has been done before, and done better.

Seems to be getting worse; now there’s flashing red crap on the screen, and I sometimes have to boot fifteen times to get a screen that isn’t all green.

Any time I boot into hardware-accelerated mode, whereas it displays fine when booting as a dumb framebuffer. Sadly, I tried the Mint 17 LiveCD, and, if anything, it’s even worse.

So, warning to the wise: if you’re buying a new laptop, don’t get one with Intel integrated graphics.

Arrived on my Nexus 7 today. I can’t see any obvious difference, but it was only supposed to be a bug-fix release. Download and install was pretty fast, so I doubt much changed.

So, I bought a new laptop and it’s just about working. It’s a Toshiba L70-A-04g, which was the best option I could find in a local store. Mostly because of the 17″ screen, because I wanted something that would fit more text than the old 15″, but also because it has a HDD cover underneath, while the 15″ models I looked at typically required removing sixteen screws and then pushing a credit card in around the edge to unlatch the entire base.

It kind of works. I removed the Windows 8 HDD and installed my Linux SSD from the old laptop, then configured the BIOS to legacy boot, and… ended up at a black screen. Mint 16 doesn’t understand the backlight, so I had to add acpi_backlight=vendor to the boot command.

Unfortunately it also doesn’t work properly with the HD4600 Intel video driver. In the past, buying a machine that’s all-Intel has been the safest option, but not here. There’s a lot of video corruption as the driver starts, and some flickering pixels at the top of the screen. I suspect it’s a video timing bug that’s been fixed in the 3.15 kernel, but that won’t hit Mint for several months. The other option is to run in VESA mode, but then you’re stuck with software rendering and the CPU running flat out for video playback.

The touchpad is abysmal, for some reason they’ve combined the mouse buttons into the touchpad, they take a heck of a force to click, and, if you click one while your finger is on the touchpad, you have to lift your finger and put it back down to get the touchpad to recognize it again. The old one was far better.

So, it appears Libreoffice is now crashing regularly for no obvious reason, with a segmentation fault in libmergedlo.so; it seems to be a known bug that’s been around for months with no fix. This is particularly annoying because I save the file, do something, it crashes, and, when I restart it, the file I load is not the one I saved.

Since it’s crashed three times in the last fifteen minutes, this makes writing pretty damn tiresome right now. I presume it’s somehow graphics driver related, because it didn’t happen on the old laptop, but happens regularly on this one. That said, it’s also happened on my desktop machine at work.

Someone suggested uninstalling Java, and, since I did that, it hasn’t crashed. Which is weird, because I had the Java integration disabled before then. It may just be a coincidence.

Pause and restore now actually works again in Linux Mint 16. Which is useful; I no longer have to exit and restart every time I need to stop the music for a moment.

Looks like the NFS and slow login issue is due to NFS now requiring GSSD. I seem to have solved it by setting ‘NEED_GSSD=yes’ in /etc/default/nfs-common on both client and server, and rebooting both.

The Cardo issue appears to be a problem with the font. I found a bug related to it on Red Hat:

Cardo font unusable, badly displayed

Using Fontforge to edit the OS/2 Metrics to the values specified there, and similar values for the bold font, appears to have solved the problem. The italic font appears to always have been OK.

Finally got around to upgrading from 15 as it’s now end of life. I tried the suggested method to upgrade without having to reinstall:

Upgrade Linux Mint 15 (Olivia) to Linux Mint 16 (Petra)

But that failed horribly. The system would boot, but the MDM couldn’t find its theme; I could log in from a console and start the X server myself, but half the MATE applets were missing. Any attempt to fix it by uninstalling MATE and reinstalling ran into a load of conflicts.

So, eventually, I gave in and just reinstalled from scratch.

Three things I’ve noticed so far:

1. Logging in takes about ten times as long as before.
2. Automounter takes about ten seconds to mount an NFS partition.
3. Cardo font is completely screwed up in LibreOffice 4.1. I suspect this is a known bug that’s fixed in 4.2, so I’m going to have to manually install that.

Nope, Cardo is hosed. I’ve had to fight through all the crap required to setup a bugzilla account, and report the bug:

Bugzilla

I recently bought a Nexus 7 because the small size and high resolution makes it a viable alternative to carrying both a Kindle and netbook when travelling. But one of the most annoying ‘features’ is that any time I accidentally hit the home button when scrolling through a page, it brings up a Google window that I don’t want, which takes a couple of seconds to get out of.

Fortunately, it turns out to be easy to fix. Just go into Settings, then Apps, then Google Search, then disable it. Now you can actually scroll without bringing up the damn Google window.

Finally finished the main plotline of Saints Row 4 after about 35 hours played. It was good fun other than being forced to repeat a few of the side missions that just weren’t very interesting.

Now I have to save the world from Santa Clawz.

After several hours played, I can safely say that State of Decay would have been a good game if not saddled with some absolutely horrible design choices.

The most obvious is that it pretends it’s running when you’re not playing. So you log out as part of a group with maximum morale and stores full of resources, but, when you log back in, morale has collapsed, half your survivors are ‘missing’ (hint: they’ll almost certainly be in exactly the same bloody garage as all the other ‘missing’ survivors), and all your resources are gone.

I can’t believe anyone thought such a brain-dead design was a good idea. It’s supposed to be fun, or something, but really it just punishes you for playing; if I start the game for half an hour I have to clear up the previous night’s mess and then I’ll get another mess the next time I start. So why bother?

But Repetition should be the name of the game. Go and collect supplies… AGAIN. Go and kill hordes of zombies… AGAIN. Go and find the missing survivors… AGAIN. Go and clear out a horde of zombies that’s moved into a house… AGAIN. Go and protect another group of survivors in a house as they’re attacked by zombies… AGAIN. And so on. Most of the time spent in the game is spent doing things the game wants you to do, not the things you want to do.

The other huge problem with this game is that nothing is explained. For example, the game tells me to build more beds for the survivors. OK, so all I need is some wood and stuff. But I don’t have any. I’m living in a wooden house, surrounded by wooden houses, but I don’t have any wood.

There’s an option in the game to create barricades over the windows to keep zombies out. It shows me hammering wood over the windows. Why can I do that, when I don’t have enough wood to make more beds?

Where can I find wood if I can’t just go to another house and rip it off the walls, or, heck, dismantle their beds and move it over?

Eventually, after reading web pages for a while, I discovered there’s an option in the map of the building to select the radio and ask the radio person to send out a message to see if anyone knows where there’s a stash of wood.

Why is it there? Why is it hidden in the building map, when I’m standing right by the radio? Why I can’t I select it from the radio? Why I can’t I select it from the talk menu when I talk to the radio operator?

Why does nothing in this game make sense?

Characters get tired over time, but, if you switch to another character, they rest and recover. So I kept trying to switch to my other character, but the game kept telling me they were on a mission, so I couldn’t.

What mission? Where were they? How did I get them off the mission so I could rest, as the game kept telling me to do? Why couldn’t I just go to a bed and select ‘rest’ to rest?

Eventually I discovered she was standing on a tower with her gun, and her ‘mission’ was being sad. So I had to kill a few zombies with her so she’d stop being sad, so I could then switch and let this character rest. Very intuitive.

I think you can select rest from the building map screen, by selecting the area with beds. But why? Why not just go to the bed? Why is it completely non-interactive, when it’s the obvious place to put such an option?

On a mission soon after, I had to find a car to take one of the other characters back to the base. I found a car, and drove in, stopping about ten feet away. The character’s opinion of me dropped, because, apparently, I was ‘driving recklessly’.

One amazing aspect of the game is that it makes killing zombies boring. A small number of zombies are easy to kill and just requires clicking the mouse or pressing a button a few times. A large number of zombies requires running away or running them over with a car. So you either succeed with minimal cost or die.

So in another mission, I had to help defend a house from zombie attack. They all attacked, I killed about twenty, and thought it was over. But there were more.

And more.

And it was boring as heck. We barricade the windows, they run up, we shoot them, they die, we barricade any damage, more run up. The only effect was to reduce the amount of ammunition in the building’s stores.

As I travel around the map, the radio operator keeps giving me things to do. That’s OK, I understand you’re not supposed to be able to do everything in the game, so I don’t mind missing some. But they keep sending me places, and then keep telling me that I’m tired and should come back. That’s annoying.

They also send you to places to collect things, you get there, and it’s not there. You wander around, looking at everything, trying to get the elusive ‘Search’ icon to appear so you can collect it, but nothing triggers that. You’re right on the map icon, but the stuff just isn’t there. Is it a bug? Am I not looking in the right place? Does the game intentionally send you to places when the resources aren’t really there?

Who knows?

One of the main parts of the game is collecting crap. But the backpacks are tiny, only holding a handful of items before you have to run back and unload them. This basically just adds a time sink. You can reduce it by building outposts with storage areas, but there’s no reason why I should be limited to carrying a couple of weapons and a few rounds of ammunition and medical supplies before I have to run back.

To make it worse, there’s no distinction between your equipment and mission items. At one point in a mission, one of the characters tried to give me something, but… all I got was a ‘your inventory is full’ message. I couldn’t take it, and the game hadn’t checked whether I could. Fortunately it wasn’t essential, so I managed to complete the mission anyway.

I could go on. But, really, I can sum it up in one sentence: don’t buy this game.

Picked this up cheap in the Steam sale. On the one hand, it’s another zombie game, but, on the other, it does a lot of things right. It’s less about killing zombies (e.g. Left For Dead) than surviving the zombies, by collecting survivors, building a base and keeping them alive. It also has permadeath, where any of the characters in the game can die; that’s not as bad as it sounds, because you can switch to another character, but you’ve lost any progress you made before that point.

However, at the same time, it is horribly flawed. The most obvious is the control system, which is designed for people with tentacles. For example, by default the ‘execute’ key to kill a zombie on the ground is ‘Z’, and I would need triple-jointed fingers when my hands are already on WASD to move. There are just too many keys, and they’re counter-intuitive; for another example, you press Tab to open the inventory/status menus, but you have to press Escape to get back out, pressing Tab again switches to the next screen.

I’m only about an hour and half in so far. More as I have time to play it.

So, I’ve been trying to register an account on a web site I won’t name. I keep trying, I keep entering the details, and, when I go to register, it keeps saying:

“Sorry, there has been a problem with your registration.”

Yeah, and?

There’s been a problem. You know what the problem is. I have absolutely no idea what the problem is. WHY DON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT THE PROBLEM IS?

How am I supposed to fix ‘a problem’ if your error doesn’t tell me what it is?

I did eventually figure it out: what the site meant is ‘we can’t register you at that email address, because you already have an account that you registered here using that email address years ago.’

Why couldn’t it tell me that? What kind of company unleashes such a crappy web site on the world without testing the simplest of issues?

Rhythmbox has broken pause sometime in the last few months. Now, any time I pause and then try to start again, it just keeps jumping onto new songs without playing anything.

Anyone know what broke it, and how to fix that?

Now 71% of the way through; had to take a break from writing last night and cleared out a lot of the missions and activities I hadn’t yet done.

I have to say, some of them are much more difficult and annoying than others. I could happily never do the Rift racing activities ever again, and the Genki telekinesis activities are nowhere near as fun as the old Genki games in SR3.

The worst part, though, is that I suddenly ran into a limit on the number of save games. I have a 3TB disk with nearly 1TB free, yet the game won’t let me save more than about fifty times. It’s an insane limit that’s probably carried over from crappy consoles.

I was updating my Xbmc machine, which we use to play videos recorded by MythTV. Running apt-get kept complaining that it was out of disk space, yet ‘df’ showed there was plenty on every partition.

Turns out that’s because it’s lying. It’s not out of disk space, it’s out of inodes. For some reason it’s not cleaning up old kernels, and is leaving the kernel headers in /usr/src. That’s a staggering number of tiny files that eat up inodes much faster than they eat up disk space.

So, if you see this error, you need to remove old kernels and headers to clean up space.