Posts Tagged ‘Linux’

I have been a happy Amazon Prime customer for the last couple of years. One of the biggest perks of using it the availability of large number of videos available for instantly watching. Infact, I watched almost all episodes of Star Trek (TOS to Voyager) using this method.

Sometime in the second or third week of January, this method broke down. Whenever, I tried to play the episodes of Voyager, I got an error in Flash player. Basically, it will open a dialog box saying ‘Updating Player’ which will soon error out saying "an error occurred and your player could not be updated”. If you retry, it will get stuck with ‘Updating Player’ .

I was using Ubuntu 11.10 on a 64 bit machine. I tried lot of things and nothing really worked. I installed and reinstalled Adobe Flash plugin and other codecs and basically made a mess of my system. Finally, I found a simple solution in Amazon Instant Video forum in an unrelated thread. The link is here . The solution is very simple . Install hal and libhal1 package for your distro. If you are using Ubuntu, the command is

sudo apt-get install libhal1 hal


Few of my friends also had this issue and installing these packages seems to fix the issue. Unfortunately, this useful tip seems buried under other  noise and hence I decided to put a separate blog post. If this did not fix the issue I recommend looking at Adobe’s Problems playing protected video content on 64-bit Ubuntu Linux page. This has some additional information on making flash work.

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Biweekly Links – 09-13-2010

1. Grilo: Integrating Multimedia Content in Your Application
Grilo is one the new projects in Linux I am pretty excited about (other being lightspark and systemd). Grilo tries to solve a problem that is going to become more dire. Hopefully, developing plugins will become more easier as it matures. I can think of lot of cool projects using it.

2. YouTube Instant. The last two days ….
YTInstant is all the rage for the last few days and this post talks about the various news articles on it. In case you did not know, YTInstant brings Google Instantish features to youtube. I tested it and it worked great ! I felt autoplaying videos – especially videos for partial searches was very jarring 🙂 I was curious about how he solved the API limit. He got around it by the clever use of script tag. Take a look at his page !

3. How Ubuntu is Made
This post talks the tools Ubuntu team uses to manage and communicate with the distributed development environment. The tools that I found interesting were  Gobby tool and Mumble. I was especially impressed with Mumble. Looks like a very nifty tool.

4. How to make password-guessing more difficult: The popularity oracle
One of the provocative ideas of recent time. I first read about it in Michael Mitzenmacher’s blog. The idea looks cool and it will be interesting if there is adoptation by some big service. Even the recent XKCD comic talks about it.

5. A story about updates and people
A thoughtful post about different Linux users, their expectations and how to have different Linux update policies to suit each of them. These thoughts especially resonated with me because I do not know why my non CS, non techie Ubuntu using friends has to be forced to be decided if they want to update or not. Atleast in Ubuntu, I think Software Center must be updated so that it offers an option to update relevant packages for particular "software" rather than showing all packages and ask user to decide. It was gratifying to see good discussion for this article – hopefully something will change and make Linux easier to use and update.

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Biweekly Links – 08-30-2010

1. GNU/Linux – finally it’s Free software
Quite a surprising news. Looks like some of the glibc code used by Linux et al was not "fully free software" even though in historic context it had the right spirit. It is all the more surprising to know that Oracle made the final decision to make it free !

2. $2 billion ISS experiment delivered for shuttle launch
It is quite amazing that we are willing to spend $2 billion on some detector for dark and anti matter – I do agree it is an important research but still not convinced of its utility !

3. Neighborly Borrowing, Over the Online Fence
It was only a matter of time before some startup comes up with the idea of renting your items. I am a bit skeptical if the projects will continue their momentum even after US comes out recession – Once recession gets over, people might prefer to buy cheap items and there is always a risk associated with renting expensive items. But I do feel that this might work very well for market focused on students.

4. Nine Great Uses for Private Browsing that Don’t Involve Porn
Contains some very useful ideas.

5. Hinting That It’s Good to Be Bad
This research surprised me a lot. It is quite amazing to know that people are more forthcoming if the website had appropriate "cues". Some thing to remember !

6. They Crawl, They Bite, They Baffle Scientists
An NYTimes article on bedbugs. They are a big nuisance especially in university apartments so hopefully some "fix" is found soon !

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1. Attack of the Cosmic Rays!
A very interesting post which discusses how the author debugged a single bit error that caused expr to crash. The big take away is the diverse set of debugging tools and techniques that the author uses. Very neat !

2. Sergey Brin’s Search for a Parkinson’s Cure
This post discusses how Sergey Brin is trying to upend medical research to cure Parkinson disease. As a Computer Scientist, I always get astounded when I hear new drugs easily take more than a decade to be designed and tested. I am sure there is a lot that CS can do to improve the process and help save lives.

3. Facebook In Early Stage Search Engine Tests?
When Facebook started introducing Facebook pages, I kinda expected them to extend it to a social search engine. I see lot of friends are using Facebook as a search engine by asking questions about restaurants and movies. So it is only a matter of time before FaceBook automated the whole process. Combined with Yelp/OpenTable, FaceBook can give compelling results. If you mix in powerful AI like  Siri, you have a big winner. Let us see how things evolve.

In the mean while, the web is abuzz with rumors that Google is developing a Facebook killer. Search "Google Me" in net for more details.

4. Microsoft by the numbers
This was my favorite post from last week. In this post, Frank Shaw – VP of PR at Microsoft gives lot of statistics comparing it with other competitors. There are two things I liked in this post – He included source for each statistic and he did not explicitly mention what he set out to prove – which in my opinion is a master stroke. You may also want to read TechCrunch’s commentary on the post here .

5. Clash of Titans: Apple vs. Google
Another insightful post on Apple/Google’s budding rivalry in mobile Ads.



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1. Improving Brand Recognition in TV Ads
A HBS research on how to improve brand recognition and reduce viewers from switching channels. The idea of pulsing looks pretty interesting.

2. HP’s ePrint: Print From Devices With No Printing Support
Idea looks very promising. I have some concerns about security and spamming but pretty cool idea.

3. Disentangling Gaussians
The post talks about a paper in STOC by Valiant. Basically, given a normal distribution which is internally a mixture of two other normal distributions – how to figure out the parameters of individual distributions given the parameters of the combined distribution. There are two interesting things :  it is solvable in polynomial time and it uses moments . I remember learning moments and wondering how the higher moments will be used – This looks like a great example.

4. 3-D Without the Glasses
Looks like a cool idea. The fact that it uses eye tracking may mean that it may not scale very well. But it will still find application in our living rooms as 3D TVs if not in conference rooms as projectors. I hope this product does not go the way as courier went 🙂

5. Chris Lattner gets first SIGPLAN award for LLVM work
LLVM is a fantastic idea and I am happy that Lattner is being recognized with a SIGPLAN award.

6. Linux Stuff
Lot of interesting things are happening in the Linux world . Demystifying Grilo discusses the promising library of grilo for media discovery.  It’s a matter of plugins…  discusses libpeas architecture for new gedit plugins.  I had talked about gEdit plugins at How to convert gEdit to gEdit++ .



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AllTray is a very useful Linux utility that many are not aware of. The problem it solves is this : Many a time, the Linux application (Eg Thunderbird, Subscription, Gedit) that you use may not have a tray icon. This means when you click on the application’s close button , the application is terminated. This is in contrast to some other applications like Pidgin, Empathy , Rhythmbox and others which gets minimized to system tray and stay in the background when you click on the close button.

AllTray is a Linux utility that can make any Linux application to get minimized in the system tray (and not get terminated) when you press the close icon. An alternate way to say the same thing is that , AllTray allows you to “dock” any application, although it looks more like a Mac lingo.


If you are in Ubuntu, then the easiest way to install it is
sudo apt-get install alltray
If you are in any other Linux variant, then you can go to AllTray’s homepage and get the source code and install it yourself.

Using AllTray in GUI Mode

The most common way to use AllTray is using its GUI. So start any application that you want to be minimized. Then start AllTray from Applications -> Accessories -> AllTray. You will get a small dialog box which says “Please click on the window you would like to dock ” and a “Cancel” button . The mouse pointer also changes to a “+” sign. Now click on the title bar of the application that you want to minimize (or dock). The application now moves to system tray and it is immediately minimized.

Now you can click on the icon at the system tray to maximize/minimize the application. If you want to permanently close it , then right click on the application and select  “Exit” . If you want to remove AllTray’s behavior (ie make the application behave conventionally) then right click on the tray icon and select “Undock”. The application will now be maximized, the icon is removed from system tray and if you now click on the close button , then the application is truly terminated.

Using AllTray in Console Mode

I really like the fact that AllTray also works well from the console and it has more options when you invoke from the console. You can try “alltray –help” to get all the options.

Scenario 1 : Dock/Minimize a new application
This is the typical scenario in which you start a new application from the console, and want it to be minimized to the system tray. Using thunderbird as an example,

alltray thunderbird

This makes allTray run in console’s foreground. If you want to make it run in the background , append an “&” to the command. The side effect is that if you close the console , the application gets terminated.

Scenario 2 : Dock a new application but do not minimize it immediately
Usually, for an application like Thunderbird, you do not want to minimize it immediately. You want to check your emails first and then when you close it, you want it to be minimized. To do that ,

alltray thunderbird -s

Scenario 3 : Dock an existing application
Sometimes, you might want to move an existing application to be docked. AllTray currently does not have any functionality from console to do that. (previously it had a -p pid option). So in this case, it is easier to do it using the GUI. (Refer the steps for GUI above).

Scenario 4 : Maximizing a docked application using keyboard shortcuts
Currently, once you dock an application, the only way to view it again is to click on the system tray icon. AllTray has an option that allows you to maximize a docked application using a keyboard shortcut. Using Thunderbird as an example again,

/usr/bin/alltray  /usr/bin/thunderbird -k Alt:t

In this case, Thunderbird starts out minimized and I can press Alt+t to maximize it whenever I want. Pressing it again, minimizes it. I was not able to assign it a shortcut using the super key (ie Windows key) like super + t . This was because Super was not an acceptable modifier – I was able to assign shortcuts like Alt+Super(windows) though. For more details check alltray –help.

Scenario 5 : Using it for startup applications
I use Thunderbird and Sunbird extensively and have it in my startup applications. I used to manually minimize them using AllTray GUI. Now a days, I use the command line version to minimize it automatically. For eg, enter either of the following command at System -> Preferences -> Startup Applications

/usr/bin/alltray  /usr/bin/sunbird -k Alt:s
/usr/bin/alltray  /usr/bin/thunderbird -k Alt:t –s

So , when the system starts, it starts both Sunbird and Thunderbird. Sunbird is immediately minimized and I can use Alt+s to maximize/minimize it. Thunderbird starts out in a maximized form (and does not dock immediately). I can check the emails and then click on the close button and it will get minimized to system tray. I can use Alt+t to control minimizing/maximizing Thunderbird.

AllTray is  a neat utility and I hope it is useful for you !

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1. An Open Mind
This NYTimes articles talks open course ware like MIT OCW and asks the critical question – what next ? One glaring issue in OCW is that even if you master the course contents you are not really “certified”. It also talks about other initiatives like CMU’s OLI (its statistics and causal reasoning courses are among my favs)  and Peer 2 Peer University . I was not aware of P2PU and it looks like terrific concept. I am hoping to take part in its next offering. Lets see how it goes.

2. Web Coupons Know Lots About You, and They Tell
Another interesting article that talks about Web Coupons , information in it and profile matching. The Facebook scenario is the scariest, although I think the anonymity set in the other case should also be small. RevTrax may be the most important company we never were aware of 🙂

3. The History of Beauty
A post about a book on the beauty industry. It is a $30 billion industry without much analysis. The post has some interesting points.

4. Why Linux Is Not Attracting Young Developers
Has some very interesting insights.

5. XAuth: The Open Web Fires a Shot Against Facebook Connect
Looks like a promising concept. I think Facebook and Twitter will ultimately join this even while supporting their own protocols.

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