trying out zsh and oh-my-zsh on ubuntu

Using the terminal all day I figured I should ‘sharpen the axe’ a bit. I have played around with configuring bash, but mostly I don’t know what I am doing in that .bashrc file. I tried a few ways to get the terminal tab titles to be something shorter so they would actually be usefull for example. no luck there. Tried customizing the prompt to include git status if I was in a git repo. Got that one to sorta work, but screwed up some other stuff in the process…

Noticed zsh is a alternative that has a vocal fan base, thought I’d see if it lived up to the hype. I’ve been using it for a couple months now but so far I think I like it, and I am sure I have only scratched the surface of what it is capable of. which was probably true of bash as well…

Anyway, installing isn’t to hard, but not very obvious so I thought I would document how I did it to see if anyone wanted to chime in on how I did it wrong, or possibly would find it usefull.

First install zsh package from Software Centere or using apt-get install zsh
Use bash terminal one last time to install oh-my-zsh (https://github.com/robbyrussell/oh-my-zsh)
open edit>profile preferences in the terminal menu
on the second tab ‘Title and Command’ check ‘Run custom command instead of my shell’ and enter ‘zsh’ in the text input.
Restart Terminal
Viola!

edit .zshrc as desired.

Linux Mint 6 on HP laptop

Thought I would log my experience setting up my laptop with Linux Mint 6.

About the Hardware:

I got a pretty good deal on this from Best Buy on a Black Friday sale. The model number is dv4 1114nr if you’d like to look up the hardware specs. I quickly had Ubuntu 8.10 running on it. Most things worked out of the box. The webcam, the wireless internet, the graphics card, and all the touch buttons up by the screen. the microphone and the neato little remote control were less cooperative.

A Little History:

As time went on a few things were starting to annoy me because I couldn’t manage to fix them. One was that the hibernate and suspend features were not working. A little research and I narrowed this down to a BIOS issue. Basically what that means is there is no way I could fix that with out a special update from HP. Unfortunately they do not provide any BIOS update files that play nice with Linux. I got in touch with them and after they reiterated a few times that they don’t support Linux they sent me a recovery disc. So, backed up my home directory, reinstalled Windows, preformed BIOS update, noted how slow and heavy Windows was, then put in my Linux Mint CD and started over.

Installing, Updating, and Customizing Mint:

The install time was less than 30 min. In contrast it took over 3 hours to run those recovery discs. after the install was complete I connected to my wireless right away, and installed the available updates. about 170MB of them. While that was going on I moved the bottom panel to the top of the screen, changed the wallpaper and theme, and fixed the buggy sound issue that these laptops are known to have.

To do that I opened a terminal the Gnome-Do way (just press “super + space” and start typing “term…” and press enter. In the terminal:

Code:
gksudo gedit /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base

and add this to the end of the file:

Code:
options snd-hda-intel enable_msi=1

I did a little customizing of my top panel such as:

  • removed – windows list,
  • added – desktop switcher, sysyem monitor, search files and folders, weather
  • hid – gnome do icon (right click and select preferences…)

By now my updates were complete. I decided I wanted to play with the new MintInstall feature so opened that up and hit refresh. Maybe it’s just a first time thing, but it took a looong time to get ready. Maybe a part of that was the screenshots it was loading.

I like to have my windows roll up when I double click the title bar, so while that was loading I went into Menu -> Preferences -> Windows  and set the “Titlebar Action”. Mint Install was still loading, so I also set my location in the weather applet I had added to the top panel

Mint Install was ready so I went to start installing all the stuff I wanted. The screenshots, ratings, and reviews are all neat features, but I wished I could have installed more than one application at a time. While I did abandon MinstInstall in favor of Synaptic Package Manager pretty quickly, I do appreciate its simplicity. And better yet, my list of things to install is much shorter than in Ubuntu because Mint, in my opinion, has a much nicer set of default applications – GnomeDo, PulseAudio, SunJava, Thunderbird the Medibuntu package, etc. Of course part of that is because they ignore certain license issues, but it doesn’t bother me as I own all of those lisences already anyway. Plus I am more and more persuaded that intellectual property is an illegitimate concept idea altogether.

Troubleshooting

I still haven’t been able to get my built in mic to work. If I plug a mic in to the jack that does work, though even that took a little messing around with the sound preferences/ pulse audio settings. Skype needed to be adjusted to use pulse, and blocked from auto adjusting mixer levels. Even then the mic is very very quiet (Part of it might be the crappy mic I was using).

I tried to run a shell script to install Groovy/Grails syntax highlighting by double clicking. That didn’t work. Odd, and couldn’t figure out how to get it to go. I am no terminal jockey, this much is true

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Best internet Radio: Last FM or Pandora?

I often listen to music while working. It’s a common practice I think, and while the traditional approach has been to use the trusty FM and AM signals broadcast by local radio stations more and more people are opting for internet radio. There are two main types of internet radio that I know of. The first kind is just like your traditional radio station. You don’t really interact with what you hear you merely tune in. The main difference is that you use a URL to tune in instead of a frequency. The advantages of this are greater selection and maybe fewer advertisements.

The other type is streaming audio that is dynamically determined by your interactions and preferences. Pandora and LastFM are the two most popular examples of this that I am aware of. A major difference between these two very cool applications that isn’t readily apparent is the way they decide what music to play for you. Other more obvious differences have to do with user interface.

Pandora:

Pandora Logo

Pandora’s recommendations are based on the intrinsic qualities of the music. Give Pandora an artist or song, and it will find similar music in terms of melody, harmony, lyrics, orchestration, vocal character and so on. Pandora likes to call these musical attributes “genes” and its database of songs, classified against hundreds of such attributes, the “Music Genome Project.”

Pandora runs in your web browser. Which means to use it all you have to do is go to their website. They have a really nice interface, the only downside of which is that it requires a flash plugin (this isn’t an issue for most people, and as a side note Pandora actually uses a open source alternative to Adobe Flash called Open Laszlo. Well done Pandora development team!). Pandora’s methods for letting you add stations, and for mixing up different genres and artists is very intuitive and has made for some interesting mixes for me. The downside is that if you have a somewhat slow connection it may take some time to load up. In the era of tabbed browsers it is no problem at all to leave a tab with this running. The drawback of this browser dependent approach is that you are going to have to come back to the proper browser tab if you want to rate a song, change the volume independently of other sources, or just figure out whats playing. I have heard a rumor about a desktop widget type of thing that can control Pandora, and if not that there are bound to be browser plugins that show up to deal with this inconvenience.

pros:

  • intuitive fun user interface
  • good method for building stations
  • good information on artists
  • information on your friends listening habits
  • fast initial setup
  • good for finding music with very specific sound

cons:

  • advertisements, (not in the music though)
  • stuck in the browser
  • seems to play a lot of repeats on some stations

Last FM:

LastFM Icon
Last.fm is a social recommender. It knows just a little bit about a songs’ intrinsic qualities. It just assumes that if you and a group of other people enjoy many of the same artists, you will probably enjoy other artists popular with that group.

LastFm can be run from your browser, from a lastFM program that you install, or from plugins within many popular music programs. and using a plugin lastFM can learn about your music preferences from any music you listen to, not just what you listen to in lastFM itself. This is a pretty powerful way to get worthwhile music recommendations. The upside of the plugin and independent player are that you can control the music without having to navigate back to the proper tab in the browser. You don’t get some of the flashy effects and animation that are so impressive on Pandora, and the initial set up can take a little longer, but in my opinion the trade off is totally worth it. The Last FM player, and plugin are also open source, which I am obviously a fan of. Another advantage is the lack of advertisements. Of course there are adds on their site and well placed links to click if you want to buy music but other than that you won’t be solicited in any way.

pros:

  • no browser lock in
  • great new music suggestions!
  • good information on artists
  • even more information on your friends listening habits!
  • open source
  • good for finding music you like in wide variation of styles and sounds

cons:

  • take more time and effort to get going
  • no frills, just music (potentially a good thing…)

Conclusions

Both Pandora and LastFM are amazingly cool tools that help people enjoy and discover new music. Both are well executed, and both have unique advantages. I prefer LastFM for the variety and types of music that it recommends and for the way I interact with the player. I still use Pandora from time to time, and would recommend it especially for more casual users.

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