Monthly Archives: July 2009

MacBook’s Extra Hidden Volume Level

I wanted to lower the volume a notch below the first one, before it mutes the sound. Ssuch a fine-grained level of volume control didn’t appear to exist on the MacBook keyboard (probably like any other laptop keyboard). Then I discovered an interesting key combination:

  • Hit the “Volume Down” button (the one indicated with a speaker and one wave coming out of it, I think)
  • Once the volume is all the way down, hit the mute button once.

What you’ll get is just a barely audible volume level, perfect for communicating with someone with some background noise to keep the idle part of your brain happy.

If you wanted more control over volume level, open System Preferences or click on the volume icon in the upper-right corner. There ought to be a way to control volume via the terminal, but I haven’t found it yet.

The Move to Online Applications

I just had a discussion with a friend about the difference between online and offline software, and the differences are pretty clear cut:

  • Online software is just that: online. Quite a few (more than expected) websites support Google Gears, and hopefully offline syncing will become the norm.
  • Using things like JavaScript and AJAX for websites is relatively new. Standards, expectations, and features are constantly evolving. Things have gone from the barely interactive webpage to a hardy application that happens to run on the web. Nevertheless, there’s still a long way to go before websites can match the power of offline applications.
  • Security? Privacy? They’re all second thoughts so far in the world of web applications. Many tech websites are pushing for developers to put extra thought into privacy and security, but it’s one of those things that don’t provide a direct return in profit, so it will take longer to catch on. In the meantime, we users are exposed. Now, this is where it all becomes subjective: is privacy and security really all that important for the data you’re uploading? Most services provide SSL logins, and that’s generally enough to protect the account from hackers. Beyond that, there’s not much over-the-“air” encryption going on, and just about anything can be sniffed and tracked. So, do you really want to hide family photos or phone records, or do you really care if someone gets a hand on those? Like I said, it’s subjective.
  • Nothing can beat free. With Web 2.0 (am I allowed to use that term?) came the advertisement model, in which ads pay for the services. In some ways, it’s a win-win. You get the services free, and perhaps even discover new websites you didn’t know about via the ads, while the company gets their revenue. Sometimes a website might present offensive advertisements, but the upstanding ones are usually pretty good about what they let in.

As for offline applications…

  • It’s offline. Internet goes down? No problem. Service is down? No problem. Nothing is keeping you from firing up your software on your computer.
  • The feature-set and UI for applications is a well-trodden terrain for offline applications. Everything you could do with online software you can do with offline software, and in a consistent interface.
  • Everything is saved on your hard-drive, and you can encrypt, lock, wipe, or otherwise mangle your data in whatever way you please that makes you think it’s safe. You can’t get that kind of control over the storage of your data with other online services.
  • However, this usually comes at a price. Unless you pay, you’re pretty much guaranteed a sub-average experience. For example: I admit OpenOffice is nothing like Microsoft Office. That’s not to say Microsoft Office beats OpenOffice in all areas, but Microsoft Office can certainly throw a heavy, if not critical, punch in features and ease-of-use. Then again, you can’t get this experience online either, so you pretty much have to pay period if you want all the features.

Before everyone starts advocating open-source, let me explain myself. Continue reading

The Secret to Pidgin on OSX with Gentoo Prefix

OK, there’s no secrets really. It’s just a matter of avoiding potholes and fixing bugs enough so you can work around them.

So, first off, 2.5.7 is the version I use, even though 2.5.8 is out. 2.5.8 has its own set of problems, and if I recall correctly they’re not as easy to work around. Second, I use the following USE flags:

net-im/pidgin prediction perl gtk -ncurses gnutls debug aqua spell
x11-libs/cairo svg
app-text/enchant -hunspell aspell

Pidgin requires cairo with svg, so that’s a no-brainer. Currently ncurses wide-character support is broken, either in Pidgin or ncurses itself, so I avoid that altogether with the “-ncurses” USE flag. Also, if you want a spell-checker, aspell is much more stable than hunspell on Gentoo Prefix right now, and does the same thing. (Besides, other things use aspell more than hunspell, so it’s one less library to install.) That explains the “-hunspell aspell” USE flags.

There’s one USE flag there you may not recognize for Pidgin. It’s “aqua”. This USE flag was put there by me. This is the show-stopper that had be running in circles for quite a while. In order to get proper GTK+ aqua support, you’ll have to patch Pidgin and Pidgin’s ebuild. You can find all the resources you need at the Gentoo bug I made, or in a handily compressed file here, update: or, better yet, in my Gentoo Prefix overlay. With these in your Gentoo overlay, and the proper USE flags above, pidgin will install correctly. Huzzah! Continue reading

The Secret to Unmasking in Gentoo (and Prefix too)

If you ever dip your toes into Gentoo Prefix, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that a lot of your software is either missing or masked. If you’re sharp, or have lots of experience already with Gentoo, you’ll also notice that your profile comes with the ~ unstable keyword by default. You see, Gentoo Prefix is a pretty small project in comparison to Gentoo itself, as far as I can tell, so not as much testing goes into every package, and not every package can be and/or is currently handled by Gentoo Prefix.

Let’s assume, however, that you really don’t care, like me. Let’s assume you want to try things and out and, like every other good citizen of Linux, you plan on tracking down and reporting every bug you find to the Gentoo/Alt bug tracker. You will most certainly try to emerge something that hasn’t been reasonably stabilized yet, like Pidgin. (I will go into more length on Pidgin later. For now, a summary would be “not for the faint of heart”.) If you’re running an x64 Prefix, just about anything you try to emerge will be keyworded or masked. Not discouraged, you’ll start adding the appropriate entries to your package.keywords and package.unmask directories. After your fifteenth entry, or third round of emerge’s, it gets pretty tedious. Continue reading