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Monthly Archives: May 2010

So I wanted to use KDE 4.x, especially with  §

the infamous “GNOME Shell” approaching with GNOME 3.0, but there was a little problem: KDE 4.x sucks. It suffers from these problems for mobile professionals:

  • None of the KDE 4.x themes have reasonable GTK counterparts, meaning lousy desktop integration.
  • None of the KDE 4.x window decorations look good with any of the GTK themes.
  • But you still need to use Thunderbird, Firefox, GIMP, and so on.
  • Dual-monitor support only works if you have a desktop with two screens. Start docking/undocking a laptop and totally random shit that you don”t want to happen… happens.

Here is how to make KDE 4.x suck less on Fedora 12. I”ll soon find out if it works on Fedora 13.

  1. Give up trying to match the KDE 4.x themes with a GTK theme. They all look horrible. Instead, start with GNOME. Log into your GNOME desktop (that you don”t plan to use) and find a theme and window decoration that you like. I use Shiki, which is based on Murrine, but anything will do. Just log into GNOME and activate a theme of your choosing, then log out again.
  2. Tell KDE 4.x to use your GTK theme. Log back into KDE 4.x and set your theme to “GTK+.” Now your Qt applications will have a perfect imitation of your preferred GNOME theme, rather than trying to accomplish the inverse. Of course, window decorations won”t match, but we”ll fix that next.
  3. Use compiz or metacity rather than Kwin. Metacity can be used even if you don”t have 3D hardware. Just log into KDE 4.x, fire up a shell, and type “metacity –replace &” and you”ll get your GNOME window decorations. Only thing you lose: the “show desktop” applet. Even virtual desktop stuff works. If you have 3D hardware, even better. Use compiz. But first, edit /usr/bin/compiz-manager so that it starts the GTK window decorator even when you”re in KDE. Just comment out the entire last if/elif/fi block near the end of the file and replace it with:
    ${COMPIZ_BIN_PATH}gtk-window-decorator –replace &

    Then, log into KDE 4.x, fire up a shell, and type “compiz-manager &” and you”ll have full desktop effects with nice GNOME window decorations that match the GTK theme that all of your applications (both GTK and Qt) are now using.
  4. Make these changes permanent. Create a shell script in ~/.kde/Autostart that just calls the command from step 3, either “metacity –replace &” or “compiz-manager &” and nothing else. Mark the script executable with “chmod ug+x ~/.kde/Autostart/your-script-name” and the next time you log into KDE 4.x you”ll get the right window decorations instead of Kwin automatically.
  5. Make the fonts match. You”ll notice out of the box that KDE and GNOME have totally different font rendering. To fix this, open system settings” Fonts control and have KDE control the fonts, rather than using “system” fonts. Then, have KDE apply these settings to GTK apps. Once you make these two changes, your GTK and Qt apps will render fonts very similarly, rather than in radically different ways.
  6. Fix the dual-monitor thing. Turns out that KDE 4.x has totally broken dual-monitor heuristics and they”ve been unable to fix it in two years. News: it ain”t getting fixed, ever. BUT you can use xrandr to configure your monitor space before logging into KDE and KDE 4.x will then auto-detect your settings and adapt nicely. In my case, the correct commands before starting KDE 4.x are:Dual monitors on: Nothing needed; just log in and KDE will autodetect and run dual-monitor.Internal monitor only: Nothing needed, just log in and KDE will autodetect and run single-monitor. External monitor only: xrandr –output VGA –off
  7. Automate it. Of course it”s not nice having to log into the “failsafe” session all the time, go to the shell, type “xrandr –output VGA –off; startkde” just to get to your desktop. So, create a new session that leads to a script you manage. Go to /usr/share/xsessions and create a file called “X Session.desktop” containing the following:
    #!/usr/bin/env xdg-openEncoding=UTF-8Version=1.0Type=ApplicationTerminal=falseIcon=gnome-panel-launcherName=X SessionExec=sh ~/.xsessionComment=Use home folder .xsession fileName=X SessionComment=Use home folder .xsession fileIcon=gnome-panel-launcherThen, create a file called ~/.xsession that contains:#!/bin/bashSESTYPE=”$(/usr/bin/zenity –list –text “Select session” –column “Sessions” “Dual-display” “Internal” “External”)”if [ “$SESTYPE” = “Dual-display” ]; then    trueelif [ “$SESTYPE” = “External” ]; then    xrandr –output VGA –offelse    truefi/usr/bin/startkde &Edit as necessary after your own experimentation with xrandr and add anything else you want to do before you start your desktop environment.

Congratulations! Once you”ve performed this very simple set of steps, KDE 4.x will have the basic functionality for dealing with GNOME theme integration and multiple displays that it should have had from the beginning and still doesn”t!Epilogue: I wouldn”t even have bothered except for the fact that the new GNOME coming down the pipe promises to suck even harder. What has happened to the Linux desktop? 🙁

Things to know about DirecTV and Verizon  §

before you agree to start using them for any service:

  1. They both make you sign fixed-term contracts with early cancellation penalties.
  2. They both have customer service “wait on hold” times in the half-hours and hours.
  3. They both have confused and poorly trained customer service staff once you do get through.
  4. They both have shoddy billing and account documentation infrastructures that cause mistakes and errors in account maintenance.
  5. They both subcontract their installation and field support services out to local companies with variable expertise and initiative.
  6. They both have dozens of marketing tiers and pricing structures, meaning that you will almost always find at some point that you are paying considerably more for the same service than someone else near you.
  7. They both tend to refuse to give you the same deal once you find out about it and ring up (spending hours on hold) to ask about it.
  8. They both are cagey as hell.

A small set of anecdotes:

DirecTV: Installed shoddily. Within months of installation water was running through the electrical wire from the roof into the back of our receiver and onto the bedroom floor, knocking out TV service. That was February. This is late May and they just managed to finally get us TV again after endless phone calls, three visits from field crews, and considerable delays. They’ve left us with six wires running from the roof and in the process have billed us hundreds (which we refused to pay) for services and equipment that we a) didn’t receive or b) were not responsible for since the poor installation was their fault. Their CSRs require, after you spend hours waiting for one on the phone, that you walk through a standard tech support script before they answer any of your questions or consider discussing a field visit. This script includes things like “Press the channel up button. Do you have TV now? Try plugging the receiver into a wall outlet. Do you have TV now? Try pressing the button on your television set. Do you have TV now? Okay, let’s repeat each of these again, just to make sure we did them correctly…”

Verizon: Sent a self-installation kit to us when we signed up for Verizon DSL but didn’t send the dry loop digital phone number necessary to get support for the account (first question their 1-800 number asks when you call for support), and refused to give it to me until March of this year (after three years of service). Called to upgrade to faster service, was told that I could have it for free, but never saw it activated. Called back to be told that there was no such option for my type of account. Paid my bill at Verizon.com when I first signed up, then was moved over to the “new” Verizon.net (with random interactions between the two online accounts) and now just moved again to the “even newer” system at Verizon.com. Never know which one will actually show my bill, and sometimes neither will let me pay it. Then I have to call (hours on hold) to take care of it.

Both: Accidentally found out that the two companies offer exactly the services that I subscribe to as a “bundle” whose total monthly cost was significantly lower than the individual prices I was paying. Spent hours on the phone with both, talking to managers and so on, trying to get them to give me the “bundle” instead, under threat of cancellation. Finally got them to agree. They told me I had to have a $0.00 owed balance on both accounts for the “bundling” to take place, and that it would take 2-3 months to complete. For 2-3 months I logged in to both accounts only to find $0.00 balances and “bundle pending” sorts of notices. I assumed they’d bill me in arrears once the bundle was complete, since there was no way to pay in the meantime. Today I received a phone call telling me the bundle was cancelled because I haven’t been paying my bills. I asked them how I was supposed to pay when there was $0.00 due and the payment button had been grayed out. They tell me I should have called customer service in both cases on the first day of my billing cycle to do it over the phone. 1) Neither company told me to do this when the bundle was initiated, 2) that would work out to many hours per month on hold waiting to make these payments, and 3) I’m pretty sure, based on the track records of both companies, that if I had done, their CSRs would just have access to the same data I had online, and would have said “I’m sorry sir, but your account shows no balance due at this time, so I can’t accept a payment from you.”

In short:

For all the people bitching about how the iPhone needs to be available on Verizon because AT&T sucks… You’re crazy. My first mobile account in the ’90s was Verizon and was a nightmare. Now in NYC my Internet is Verizon and is, you guessed it, a nightmare. Verizon sucks.

And for anyone considering DirecTV… Don’t. They’ll @#(*$* up your installation, take many months to fix it, incorrectly bill you, charge you for helplessly incompetent field visits, and try to penalize you when you try to fix it all your own damned self so that you can have the TV you’re paying for all these months.

News and Things  §

The semester is nearly over, thankfully. Time for summer and for some hard work on my own research.

During late summer I'll be teaching sociology at Baruch, then during 2010-2011 I'll be a teaching fellow at the New School working both at Eugene Lang College the New School for Liberal Arts and in the Media Studies department, and I'll split my time by additionally handling another group of media courses at NYU. I've also recently become co-managing editor at the International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, and will at the same time be assisting Professors Virag Molnar and Jeff Goldfarb in their respective programs of research.

In short, the period from July 2010 through May 2011 is likely to be ridiculous busy and the thought of it makes me need, for the moment at least, a nap.

Finally, for everyone that heard one bit of news but not the other, or vice-versa, yes, I did recently recieve a nice and somewhat lucrative (by my standards, at least) job offer from the United Nations, but after careful consideration, turned it down. It's nice, however, to be wanted.

With this particular update over (and the only blog post in some time written), I am now going to take this weekend to get some much needed rest and to shoot a lot of photos and work on resuscitating what has lately become a somewhat stagnant stock photography sideline.