Death of a tablet

It feels like an old friend is gone. The Wacom Intuous 3 pen tablet, model  PTZ-431W, vintage December 2006, has died.

I had thought it was essentially indestructible. I’ve spilled iced tea on it twice, coffee once; each time took it apart and gently cleaned the circuit board, and back to work it went. I’m on the fourth (and probably last, since I can’t find another to order) pen… the side switches wear out.

I use the pen tablet in preference to the mouse, which feels clumsy by comparison (albeit not as awkward as the touchpad on notebooks). I’m quite happy with pressure- and tilt-sensitive controls, and direct proportional mapping.

The replacement has new features, knows touch gestures, has edge lighting, even a wireless option (must remember to periodically charge the battery and not lose the fiddly bits) which generally won’t get used…

Serial number 7AZM14858, I salute you. Come to think of it, I’ll raise a pen to you.


Fixing Chrome

When it comes to web browsers, I prefer Chrome (general purpose), Firefox (when I’m exploring new areas – it’s better protected), and Internet Exploder… well, if you must.

I use Chrome for instance write now, updating the blog.

But for the past several days, Chrome has been acting up. Every time I’d launch it all the desktop icons would blink, go blank, then recreate themselves. It only happened launching Chrome, and nothing else has changed.

A bit of searching showed others were beset with the same problem… and the answers ranged from the Microsoft garbage of “re-install Windows” (emphatically NO!), to clearing the icon cache, to restarting Windows, to just accepting it and waiting for a fix, to checking an obscure item in the chrome://flags list.

Hmm… now we’re getting somewhere.

The pseudo-URL chrome://flags exists to control various experimental ‘features’ in Chrome. One especially buggy item is Chrome’s “profile manager” which showed up on the most recent release. Profile Mangler attempts to keep track of who is using the browser… useful in a shared-machine environment but not something I care about. If you have it enabled it will show up on the top bar of Chrome, just to the left of the control group, with the current user’s name in a small box.

If you’re having the issue, you have two choices. The first (safest) choice is to live with the bug and wait for Chrome v41 to appear. They’ve found the bug, repaired it and merged it into 41.

The second choice: open another instance of Chrome. Browse to the pseudo-URL chrome://flags. Find the key “Enable new profile management system” and set it to “Disabled”. Also find “Enable the new avatar menu” and set that to “Disabled.”

Restart Chrome and the problem will go away.

…and make a note that you did this so you can go and reverse it back when the new version comes in a few weeks.

On changing displays

One evening a few weeks ago I was busily working away on the computer and without any warning at all, there  was a sharp buzzing sound, a soft “pop” – and a blank display. I spent a good twenty seconds in the first portions of the “utility power is out let’s start shutting down the non-essentials” routine before it hit me: only the display had gone out.

As usual, the timing was impeccable. December 24th, the sales were over, ok, hook up the [garbage but it works] monitor from the server and start seeing what’s in stock where and for what price. Before long the choice is down to just a handful of items… and by 2:15 that afternoon the order is placed and the waiting game begins.

The display which died was a Dell 2407FPW – in service in July of 2006, so I got about 8 1/2 years out of it. In the summer of 2006 it was considered a high-end monitor; one of the few LCD displays with color accuracy comparable to the monster (27-inch Eizo) CRTs I’d been using. The Dell was a “pivot” monitor – which can operate in landscape (widescreen) or turn to portrait orientation (very useful for page layout work).

The video card on this box is a FirePro v5700 – nice mid-range workstation graphics, can output to DVI or Display Port with adapters for just about everything.

The choice boiled down to… Dell U2413 or Asus PA249Q.

Both are 24-inch 1920×1200 IPS 10-bit LED-lit displays. Prices are within a few dollars of each other. Reviews… the major sites are a draw; minor differences noted between the displays – mostly concentrated on preset “movie” modes – but the user reviews tell a different tale.

December 29 came and UPS brought the monitor right up to the door, and after getting it out of all the packing materials, and reading the calibration report, and re-routing the cables and getting the soundbar attached… it works!

And all is good, and now I’m running with a 30-bit color pipeline (with three programs only but this is for another post), calibrations are good, I can see clearly now…

I chose the Dell.

Removing IPv6 (aka Microsoft Teredo Tunnel Adapter)

I can hear the shrieks already (“Why would you do this?”) from the purists.

The reality is, for the foreseeable future (say through 2018), IPv6 is going to be an item for the professional fringe. For the home user, and small office/home office user, IPv6 has little if any utility. In fact, even if you have it, all it’s doing is slowing down your connections – as time is wasted attempting to establish IPv6 connections.

Instructions are based on Windows 7… usual disclaimers apply (your mileage may vary; no animal testing performed; not responsible for damage; etc).

Here are the steps, illustrated. (Click on any image to get a larger version)

1) ipv6-01

2) ipv6-02

3) ipv6-03

4) ipv6-04

5) ipv6-05

I removed IPv6 from this machine years ago; my ISP doesn’t support it… and it’s just more “noise” on the line.

At last! The Symphony Ends…

…and apparently, Jersey Central Power and Light managed to find the fuse and put it back in and now I can get some sleep.

At 1:20 AM EDT this morning, the power went out.

How did I know? Because the symphony began. Four UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) units began the serenade… and as we reached 20 minutes without power, the systems all shut down, right on schedule. How strange it is to try and sleep in total darkness without the peaceful white noise of the fans. Then with a lurch and groan, the power came back… and bounced a couple of times before it stabilized. Or so it appeared.

Just about the time I was nodding off again, beep-beep-beep and another cycle – two minutes 30 seconds this time.

I’m solidly awake and it’s the darkest hour of the night.


Ink-stained rant

One of the tasks tonight was printing out student work; it needs to be printed so I can grade it and hand it back. Nowadays most students won’t print their own work… usually, I think, from the cost involved.

The big cost is ink. My usual printer for everyday use is a worn Epson Stylus C-120. It uses four colors but five cartridges -doubling up on black – and if I were to use Epson-brand ink, the cost for one set of cartridges would be about  $60. Each cartridge holds 12 ml of ink – thus Epson ink costs $1,000 per liter, or a bit less than $4,000 to the gallon. And you thought gasoline was high-priced?

I don’t use Epson inks. I print way too much to go that route.

For the first couple of years I used a CISS – Continuous Ink Supply System. This is a set of 5 cartridges with tubing which loops outside the printer to a set of tanks holding bulk ink. The cost of the CISS was $35 – for 100 ml of ink in each tank! Re-inking costs were about $30 per 500ml – far less than name-brand.

CISS systems expect to be used, a lot. Daily works best. Otherwise the inks slowly draw back down the supply lines into the tank. If the time between use is too great, the inks may clot up a bit at the feed end of the tanks… at which point it’s easier to pull the system out and replace it rather than fix it. Been there, done that. These inks are dye-based and not particularly stable, but work just fine for daily print work (mostly text).

For now, I’m using generic dye-filled cartridges bought on Amazon – the vendor name changes with each purchase, but on average I’m paying $1.25 per cartridge… everything is working fine, except the ‘status’ messages from the Epson printer driver software.

Epson’s printer drivers give a visual depiction of remaining ink; and a warning pop-up when the capacity is ‘low.’ What I’m finding out is that ‘low’ is… a marketing ploy as opposed to any sort of reality. Two days ago I got the pop-up, urging me to buy ink as I was ‘low’ on black. Earlier tonight when I started to print, the indicator was at the bottom, indicating imminent emptiness – or so it seemed. Two hundred and four pages later, the indicator is still at the bottom… and the black ink is still printing nice and strong.

Tsk tsk tsk.

Bringing Linux to Windows – part 3

Part 3 of 3.

(back-link to part 1, or part 2)

…and the final bit of configuration is to install phpMyAdmin.

phpMyAdmin is a clever package which allows for remote administration of the MySQL database server via a web-browser interface. In this instance, getting it to work also proves that all necessary components of the VM-based server have been installed and are working properly.

From the command-line:

sudo apt-get install phpmyadmin

will start the ball rolling, but there are several questions to answer.

First up, tell the installer which web server to change:

phpMyAdmin installation
Select apache webserver

Next, select the database for operating phpMyAdmin – it needs its own database for running things! It’s best to choose the dbconfig-common option.

dbconfig-common select
Go with the default

Next, you’ll need to provide the password for the ‘root’ user (administrator) for MySQL: (yep, the one you picked earlier)

phpMyAdmin config
Enter the MySQL root user password

…and after a bit more work, it should all be done.

The acid test – use your web browser to connect to phpMyAdmin:

phpMyAdmin in browser
It works!!

…and now you’re the proud owner of a Linux server running in a virtual machine!

One final note: to shut down your VM, go to a command prompt and issue this:

sudo shutdown -h now

which will politely end all tasks and power down your VM.

Addendum – of interest to my students.

In order for your VM to work identically to the classroom lab system, you’ll need to modify the operation of the Apache server. You’ll need to sign in, and from the command line issue this:

sudo a2enmod userdir

which, decoded is “super user do” “apache 2 enable module” “userdir module” – and userdir is the mod which instructs apache to serve content from a user’s “public_html” directory.

–>Important additional step to make this work (added 03/28/2014):

Due to a change in how Ubuntu server is being distributed, you’ll have to change one more file in order for PHP to work properly in conjunction with the ‘userdir’ module.

cd /etc/apache2/mods-available
sudo vi php5.conf

(or whichever editor you’re comfortable with); and comment out (add a # to the start) of the lines indicated in the php5.conf file, and save it back.

Next, you need to restart apache:

sudo service apache restart