Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Living with the Cowon C2; How to Get Along with It

I recently purchased a Cowon C2 to replace an old and decrepit 2nd generation iPod mini. I used to not really listen to music on the go, because ear buds are probably the worst invention in the world for listening to music while out and about. However, music has always been important to me so in a quest to get really good sound quality, I bought AudioTechnica's ATH-M50s. The sound was absolutely astounding so I knew I needed a new portable player with better sound quality than the iPod and, well, better than 1-2 hours of battery life due to the status of it being oooold.

So cue the purchase of the Cowon C2, despite some negative reviews about its UI. To be honest, I thought and still think that the UI is adorable, although purple being my favourite colour may very well affect that thought. The screen is another issue people have with it, because it is like a DS touch screen rather than an iPod one, but I just wanted it to sound really good and do not mind the touch screen at all. I have no issues using it, and yes, some buttons are small, but they are not cluttered together and thus can be easily pressed without much fuss.

However, one of the bigger complaints is in regard to the connection bay door. I had some issues with this at first myself, but it is important to note that the bay door is not meant to be opened down towards the bottom of the player, but rather up towards the top (sort of like DeLorean door, keke).

Image is by "John Doe" on

With the door open this way, it is both easy to get the USB cable in all the way, and the groove on the connector will be flush with the bay door once fully inserted. Hopefully this helps to solve everyone's woes related to the connection issue.

Adding Music

With the hardware part aside, I I am going to cover putting Music on the player now. The following rules should work with any Cowon player for those with other models. These are simply quality checks and steps you should take to ensure a good media database on the player, complete with album art and all.

Firstly you want to make sure your music is tagged properly. As in Artist name, Album name, Title and Track number for each track (aka song). As for covers, you want a fairly high resolution jpeg image of the cover art named "cover.jpg" to be located in the folder alongside the .ogg, .flac, .mp3 and etc files.

Some programs seem to shove a ton of album art named various things alongside the music files; you can safely delete those other images and just leave cover.jpg in if you want to keep things clean. The above is an example of a good and clean folder of music ready for transfer to a Cowon C2 or other Cowon player.

File Clean Up

Since I use Linux (currently Arch Linux for anyone keeping tabs), I will also give some tips for cleaning up useless files automagically which may be left behind by Gnome 3 or Windows.

Keep in mind that if you have not reformatted your Cowon C2 in Linux in order to get a lower case name of "Cowon C2" rather than "COWON C2," then you will want to enter in "/media/COWON C2" instead of "/media/Cowon C2" in the following commands. Users of other Cowon players entirely should adjust accordingly to what their device is called.

To start, the quite common and annoying desktop.ini and Thumbs.db files.

find "/media/Cowon C2" -name desktop.ini -exec rm -v {} \;
find "/media/Cowon C2" -name Thumbs.db -exec rm -v {} \;

Along with all the nice things in Gnome 3 came the decision to dump .mediaartlocal folders throughout the Music library for a reason probably related to annoying everyone, or because OS X and Windows already dump self-specific files everywhere they want, so why not? However, you can easily remove them from your Cowon player via the following command.

find "/media/Cowon C2" -name .mediaartlocal -exec rm -vr {} \;

After this, these pesky files should be cleaned automatically.

Now, let's say you have some albums from iTunes or some other place in Apple Lossless format and want to convert them to either FLAC, OGG or MP3. You could use a GUI tool, which some prefer, or use ffmpeg via the command line which I personally prefer. This will work for non-Apple-lossless m4a files as well, for the record.

First of all, open a terminal and go to the directory where your music is located. If you do not know how to do this, learn basic commands or bail out to a graphical sound conversion program.

  • ALAC or AAC to FLAC: for f in *.m4a; do ffmpeg -i "$f" "${f%.m4a}.flac"; done
  • ALAC or AAC to OGG: for f in *.m4a; do ffmpeg -i "$f" -acodec libvorbis -aq 9 "${f%.m4a}.ogg"; done
  • ALAC or AAC to MP3 (I personally recommend using one of the previous options): for f in *.m4a; do ffmpeg -i "$f" -acodec lame -ab 320 "${f%.m4a}.mp3"; done

Wrapping Up

I think that about covers things. Unlike iPods, a Cowon player expects certain things of you and things will not be done automatically. This gives you something that Apple does not like to give you; control. You can complain about that control, or learn to use it and find pleasure in it. That, of course, is up to you. I personally enjoy the control and lack of reliance on a program like Rhythmbox, Banshee or *gasp* iTunes to put music on to my player. The FLAC and OGG support is also very nice.

I hope all you Cowon C2 and other Cowon player owners find this useful. Until the next random thing I blog about~ ;o

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Something about GNOME 3's Application/Window Switching

Perhaps everyone knows the following bit of information, but it was not known or apparent to me at first. However, it makes GNOME Shell even more awesome for when you just want to use the keyboard to switch windows.

Alt+Tab switches between applications. Window previews of the applications with multiple windows are available as you cycle through. The previews show up after a short delay, but you can get them immediately by pressing the Down arrow key. You can move between the preview windows with the Right and Left arrow keys or with the mouse pointer. Previews of applications with a single window are only available when the Down arrow is explicitly hit. It is possible to switch to any window by moving to it with the mouse and clicking.

Alt+Shift+Tab cycles through applications in reverse direction.

Alt+[key above Tab] (eg, Alt+` on a US keyboard) switches between windows within an application. This can be used from within the Alt+Tab switcher, or from outside it (to open the switcher with the window previews for the current application already selected).

More on the GNOME Shell Cheatsheet page.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Several things which are objectively better in Fedora/GNOME 3 than in Ubuntu/Unity

It has been a week or more since my storm of moving from Ubuntu 11.04 and trying a mix of various Linux desktop distributions and environments from KDE 4 on OpenSUSE and Kubuntu to Unity on Ubuntu and even a failed attempt at trying Debian because it could not find a kernel to download. At the end, I nearly settled with Fedora 15, then went back to Ubuntu 11.04, only to find myself happily returning to Fedora 15 and staying. During the time spent using my new OS, I have noticed a few things which are simply better in Fedora with GNOME 3 than they are in Ubuntu with Unity.

1) (Fedora) Lack of freezes during media playback or other activity. For some reason, with Ubuntu, since long ago (well before 11.04), on my machine I would get random errors that would cause the system to freeze for about half a minute. Found in dmesg was something about "invalid sector 0," which I originally thought to be a hard drive issue as it would also happen in Windows 7 and cause a complete freeze which would require a hard reset in order to recover from. However, what used to be at least a once or twice a day occurrence on my machine has since not happened at all with Fedora on.

2) (GNOME 3) Better notification system, without any feature cuts. In Ubuntu, the notification system is the little black boxes which pop up with instant messages, download done boxes for when downloading things in Transmission, and other various information. However, they leave one important thing out; the ability to interact with them aside from hovering above and keeping them around longer.

However, since far before GNOME 3 notifications sent by applications have been sending buttons to press and Ubuntu has never been designed to show them. The buttons include things such as a button to open a downloaded file that just completed, a button for going to the next track in Rhythmbox and much more. In GNOME 3, the notifications have these buttons if you hover over them and go away right away when you are done with them. In Ubuntu, hover over the notifications will make them happy to stay around longer and do nothing else, leaving the button feature out entirely, ignoring features which application developers have put in.

Not to mention, GNOME 3 also has the newer feature of allowing you to reply to instant messages from within the notifications once you hover over them.

3) (Fedora) Plymouth [the OS loading screen] does not randomly break with nvidia drivers installed and has a logo fill up effect showing the actual boot progress. Plymouth is that boot screen you get when booting Ubuntu that shows Ubuntu and that purple background when your computer starts, with some sort of weird loading lights that would be cooler if the last light meant done loading. If you switch to using the nvidia proprietary drivers, that screen is replaced with mostly black and nothing.

In Fedora, which Plymouth was created in and for, that screen is instead an animation of the Fedora logo filling up, and once it is filled up it "pops" into the full on Fedora logo and your system is done loading. When you install the proprietary drivers from nvidia, it turns into a loading bar which, once full, means your system is done loading. If you set a vga resolution at 32bit colour in grub, such as vga=0x37B, you get the Fedora logo loading screen back without any problems. Never does the loading screen entirely break or a full bar/logo mean "it's not quite done"; the boot up screen actually makes sense.

4) (GNOME 3) No need to wrestle to make UI elements stick around. In Unity, pulling the side bar up when you need it should be as easy as hovering on the left side with the mouse a bit and having the bar come up. However, sometimes that works and sometimes the bar likes to leave you when you are about to use an element on it.

In GNOME 3, if you want to use the side bar then you just hit the logo [Windows] key, Alt+F1, the Activities button or just bump the cursor to the top left of the screen and you get the side bar for as long as you want it. If you want a notification on the bottom of the screen to stick around, you just hover your cursor over it and keep it there. Right when you are done with it you can take your cursor and it will disappear immediately with no messing about.

In Ubuntu, if a notification is up in your way (which is easier in Ubuntu since they are bigger by default and in the upper right corner versus slender until you hover over them and on the bottom in GNOME 3) then you can try to click through it only to have it hang around longer before it gets out of your way. In short, there is nothing to make them leave any faster; only slower.

5) (Fedora) Has proper full support for my card reader, out of the box. In Ubuntu, my laptop's card reader would read SD cards just fine in Ubuntu but not the card from my Sony camera, which would be read just fine in Windows 7. Upon searching for how to get it working I only found texts to the effect that it would not work, so I gave up on it and either used the abysmally slow USB connection from my camera to transfer photos or booted to Windows 7 in order to transfer them.

In Fedora 15, thanks to the existence of the r592 module, my card reader works fully without the need to do anything. I found this out when I plugged my camera's card in out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised to see it pop up the dialogue asking me what I wanted to do with my inserted media containing photos.

This is due to the r592 module being present in Fedora but not in Ubuntu for some reason, not even in Oneiric Alpha 3. Of course, that brings me onto...

6) (Fedora) Out of box support for fingerprint readers. Sure, people could have reasons for wanting not to use them, but Ubuntu lacks support for them entirely so it is not an option at all, making the choice "no" for you. Fedora, however, in the interest of providing support for all sorts of devices and furthering open source software in general, includes the necessary packages for fingerprint devices to work, as long as they have drivers. For my laptop (ASUS N80vn) the support was is out of box for the reader and it worked works as well as it did in Windows 7, when it actually worked in Windows 7. , and this was with Fedora 13 or a version around there (which I sadly did not stick with).

At some point during updates to Windows 7, my fingerprint reader stopped working. It used to install through Windows update, but it would not start working again even if I installed the original-from-ASUS or up-to-date software available for it. Thus, I thought it was broken. In Fedora, I noticed the option to add my fingerprint and decided to click on it out of curiosity and it not only detected the fingerprint reader but it also successfully recorded my fingerprint and it works perfectly fine. This is a score against Ubuntu and Windows 7. :)

7) (Fedora) Works properly with my wireless N. Not sure why Ubuntu does not, as they both use the ath9k driver which comes with the linux kernel, but nevertheless I after a few seconds of connectivity in both Ubuntu and Kubuntu 11.04 using wireless N, the connection speed crashes to a halt and it seems to start dropping packets as well. In order to use Ubuntu I had to switch the wireless N off in the router configuration. In Fedora, the wireless N just works and it is noticeably snappier than using wireless G.

Note: I added 5 and 6 after they recently came to mind. I wonder if more things will pop up in the future. :)


And those are the things which I can say are at least mostly objective which I have noticed so far. There are a lot of things I would consider improvements, such as the nicer theme and its lack of orange and up-to-date software, but since that is mostly subjective I will stick to these things. Has anyone else moved from Ubuntu to Fedora and noticed and other objective improvements?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Idea for PulseAudio and GNOME 3's Sound Menu; Default General and Chat Devices

After I post this blog post in order to get my ideas in one spot to help both sides of the equation understand this, I will be submitting bug reports to both PulseAudio and GNOME in order to get this upstream and hopefully it will make the cut for the next release of both.

At the current time, PulseAudio supports setting an application to use a different audio device which you can do through its pavucontrol program, and GNOME 3 supports none of this at all. This means if a new user is using GNOME 3 and wants to use a USB headset and talk to people while listening to music through speakers or play a game with sounds on and talk to people in TeamSpeak, they have to search online in order to find out how to do it.

However, with the current state of PulseAudio, adding such support to the sound menu could be done by giving each application a right-click option to switch to another device, but that would be a bit bothersome if the user used multiple VoIP programs such as Empathy, Skype, TeamSpeak and Mumble, and could confuse some people who don't even know what a sound card is. Plus, PulseAudio likes to "accidentally forget" about devices being default if you unplug them, which is annoying if you have a laptop and USB headset, for example.

:: PulseAudio Side ::

In order for my idea to work, PulseAudio will need to make some changes in the way it operates by supporting the setting of default devices (which will remain after a disconnect and switch to a fallback device only until the set device is plugged back in) to include a default General sound device and a default Chat sound device, or even better, generic device groupings with General and Chat as standard ones which applications can use. Others could then be added by the user for more complex configurations if desired.

Applications which interact with PulseAudio should then get a method to report whether they are Chat devices or not to PulseAudio and selected accordingly. Of course, not all applications will report this properly, which is a problem with Windows 7's implementation of this as well, so in order to resolve that and go a step beyond Windows 7 there should be an option per application to use either the default Chat or default General sound device, along with keeping the option to select a specific device for each, of course.

These, of course, would be a compilation of both a sink and a source which would be set separately as usual.

In pavucontrol the menu for retaining functionality and handling this could like something like the following.

* Use General Device
Use Chat Device
Use Internal Audio
Use Logitech USB Headset

Doing this at the PulseAudio level would allow for easier implementation and less redundancy in other desktop environments, hence the push for it here rather than only to be added in GNOME 3.

:: GNOME 3 Side ::

With PulseAudio's implementation in place, reflecting it in the sound settings would be the next step. I have made the following mockups for how that could look to save me typing and possibly losing what I mean in translation.

Also, for grandma and grandpa or parents who you set up with Linux so they would not kill Windows with viruses but who just bought a USB headset to talk to you and other family through Google Talk or Skype....

Optionally, just assume to set it as the default chat device and people can change it via the sound settings if they prefer it for everything or do it as a notification rather than a popup. Either behaviour would only occur the first time a device is connected to not interrupt persistent settings and/or annoy the user, of course.

For the sound menu drop-down, there could be something like...

... which would only show controls for the device group playing, or just Volume as usual if nothing but the general output is playing (and only one thing if the General and Chat devices are the same, etc, which could do with a bit of help from PulseAudio to sort that out).

:: In Closing ::

None of this should be considered the only way to implement this feature, of course, but a guideline and food for further thought. However, I think it would be a good step forward in making sound easier to configure in Linux (

Saturday, July 30, 2011

From Ubuntu to Fedora 15; Setting up Wacom, Fonts, and Google Chrome

With my recent move from Ubuntu to Fedora, I was not a huge fan of how the default font rendering looked or the fact that my Wacom tablet was randomly losing it's left-handed rotation I had set up in the config file, and etc. So I am writing this article for those who are not fans of Unity and are jumping over to Fedora while Ubuntu continues to travel in whatever direction it is choosing.


On the subject of the Wacom tablet, quite confused, I started looking things up on GNOME Shell and Wacom and finally found some stuff which lead to the reality that they added some support for changing Wacom settings in GNOME Shell, but the graphical portion of it is not quite done yet (hopefully we will see it in GNOME 3.2). However, you can fix tablet issues via dconf-editor, which I figured out after a good deal of wanting to pull my hair out.

So for starters, install dconf-editor. After that, hit alt+f2 to open the command dialogue and enter in dconf-editor. From there, go to:

org -> gnome -> settings-daemon -> peripherals -> wacom

Within there you can set your rotation as you want, such as half for left-handed tablet orientation, and other options. For me, using a Bamboo Pen tablet, I also had to check tablet-pc-button in order to get the side buttons on my pen working again, for whatever reason.


For making the fonts look nicer in Fedora 15, this blog post by Andreas Haerter covers it well. It also points out the RPM Fusion Repositories which contain other stuff you might be interested in such as media codecs and nvidia drivers (which are much more up-to-date than the ones in Ubuntu 11.04 to boot).

As an addition, in order to enable the same rendering in Google Chrome since it does not listen to the desktop settings for whatever reason, just download this file, rename it to local.conf and place it in /etc/fonts/.

After the hinting and lcd filtering is enabled, I personally think the default Fedora fonts are much nicer looking than the Ubuntu one.

::Google Chrome::

For those like myself who use Google Chrome you probably want Chrome to fit a bit more in with GNOME 3 instead of standing out like a sore thumb as it does by default. In order to do this you should download the Adwaita Chrome theme and the Adwaita scrollbars addon. After this, right-click in the tab area and check "use system title bar and borders" and you should be good to go.

Friday, July 29, 2011

GNOME Shell; A Next Generation Desktop Experience

As a long time user of Ubuntu for the Linux side of my computer and someone who enjoys various elements of the OS X, I was quite excited for the release of Unity and had managed to sit GNOME Shell in the back of my mind due to some of my earlier experiences with its less beautiful ancestors (i.e. when it looked like this and other early releases). At first I was in love with Unity and set to work completing my Lucidity 2.4 theme which I had let rot for nearly a year due to playing too much WoW and spending all my time in Windows 7. However, as someone who uses a computer for everything she does, from drawing to writing to coding to school work and beyond, I tend to get tired staring at the same UI for too long so I went to give Unity a try.

However, the initial love I felt for Unity wore off after I finished Lucidity 2.4. It felt stale and incomplete and was basically Mac OS X except easier to install on my ASUS notebook without infringing possible copyrights. But for quite some time I avoided trying out GNOME Shell, because I had this thought in my mind that it would somehow not be as amazing as Unity because although GNOME is used by far more people, Ubuntu is quite a power house. I also tried it out in a virtual machine of Fedora 15, but was still not impressed. Then at some point along the line, I decided to try out Fedora 15 on my hard drive to give GNOME Shell a proper try before I decided to write it off. My initial conceptions about it were dead wrong, and I am so immensely happy that I was wrong.

GNOME Shell is an entirely fresh-feeling desktop experience to me; someone who has been a geek staring at computer interfaces since she was around 10 years old. For those who have not tried it or are skeptical about it as I once was, you may wonder what is so new and special about it, so I will try to convey why I feel it is unique and very well done.

The thing I love about it the most, is that it sets itself up as an interface with "two sides." One side is the application side, and the other is the "Activities" side which allows you to control the applications such as which are open, selected, which workspace they are on and etc.

As someone who has done UI art, I have nothing but love and respect for the art team behind GNOME 3's new default look and feel and their product. The entire default theme is set up to reflect the "two sides" of the interface, with all non-application related elements being black and applications being themed a very light grey.

Along with this, by default, there is only a close button on applications. Although the lack of maximise and minimise may annoy some people initially (it did me at first) and they may turn away or enable it via gnome-tweak-tool, there is good reason for this and I highly recommend leaving it as-is. In the way of maximising, windows in GNOME Shell can be maximised by double-clicking their title bars, dragging them to the top edge of the screen or dragging them to the left or right edges for a horizontal half-maximisation. Minimising is quite pointless and is a habit gained from using too many task bars in one's life. Alt+Tab and invoking the Activities view in order to switch windows is much more effectively and better imo. So, although this is really just a removal of some UI elements, it has good reason behind it and feels rather fresh and clean.

Now let's look deeper at the Activities' side of things, as much of the innovation is found here since Unity technically has the same application-focus as GNOME Shell. In the activities side you will find a reworking of the overhashed system menu, replaced instead with an app wall with categories to the right. Along with this, you get a dock on the left for favourite applications, and a pager on the right when viewing open applications which you can drag applications onto and which has a fluid amount of workspaces, as in always one more than you are using in case you need another, but never any more or less than one more workspace with open applications. On the bottom, which you can also access via dragging the mouse to the bottom right corner at any time, you will find a reworking of the application indicators system which also where you will get useful application notifications, such as IM messages (which also allows you to view messages and reply) or song changes.

Along with this comes the feature to search for applications via typing in the Activities view, along with an option to search on Wikipedia or Google which comes up on the bottom left when you enter something to search. You can find the same feature in Ubuntu's Unity, but without the Wikipedia or Google option and it works slower for some reason.

Overall, the Activities view is an innovative combination of several desktop elements which we have all seen and which work very well; an exposé-like view for switching windows, a dock for opening favourite applications, an application wall and general search feature, combined with a rethought workspace pager which is a quintessential feature of the Linux desktop, existing since some of the first implementations of GNOME and other desktop environments. You could say that certain elements of the GNOME 3 desktop are like those found in Windows or OS X, but I would never say that it is like either of them. It is a completely fresh feeling, and is what a next generation desktop should be; a culmination of the past successful elements with new elements, redundancy removed and a bold new feel.

And last, but not least, even alt+tab is fresh and improved with application-based switching with a twist; you can switch to specific windows within by hovering the icon with your mouse or using the arrow keys, which is denoted by an arrow underneath the application. It also shows all applications from all desktops, with a dividing line between applications to show that one is not in the same place as the others.

As for Unity, Ubuntu can have fun copying Apple and I will happily enjoy a truly unique and next generation-feeling GNOME 3 desktop experience in Fedora. KDE has proven it can copy Windows 7 well, Ubuntu has proven it can copy OS X well, but GNOME has shown it can just be awesome on its own. However, do not take my word and screenshots for it, view the videos on the GNOME home page or try it for yourself; the full experience is well worth it.

Blogger's Note: Sadly, the free Ubuntu stickers I sent for are a bit useless now. :( Guess I should look for some Fedora ones.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Crafting of Lucidity 2.4 and the Future of Lucidity

Those of you who are here likely know that I am the creator of the GTK theme known as Lucidity. Those who have used it before version 2.4 may also know that it was originally a fork of a theme by the same name done by Issiah Heyer, and before that it was just a mockup which caught my attention. Since then, Lucidity has changed a lot and moved quite far from the original mockup and left all the code and buttons from Issiah Heyer's version behind as I slowly developed it with a look and feel of its own. Overall I want to keep Lucidity true to the name more than anything else, as in a theme which is very clean and smooth, and I shall cover how I aimed to improve that with the production of Lucidity 2.4 as well as point out some features people might enjoy.

One of the biggest changes in Lucidity 2.4 is the merging of elements from what used to be separate light and dark themes. As in, while the title bars used to be a light grey in the normal theme and everything was dark in the dark theme, I did away with the dark themes and instead Lucidity 2.4 has dark titlebars, menu and a dark panel. The reasoning behind this is to provide further clear contrast and distinction between a menu and a window. Along with this, a thin black border was added to the windows in order to give clear window boundaries for people not using shadows on their windows.

Due to Ubuntu's Unity turning the panel into the window title area complete with close, minimise and maximise buttons, the new window title and panel have the same gradient to provide a subtle sort of message along the lines of "this is now has the window controls. This also results in a nice fade in to applications such as Google Chrome, Firefox and Ubuntu One (along with application menus if not using Unity) which have dark backgrounds up top as seen in the screenshot to the right. Not only does this help illustrate the panel functioning as the title bar as well, it also looks nice and keeps with the smooth goal for the theme and also looks very clean.

The next big change is the addition of monochrome icons. However, in 2.4 final I removed some of the ones which were seen in the beta releases in favour of a more colourful desktop and a more minimal application of monochrome. I based which icons got a monochrome version on which icons are a flat colour in Ubuntu's Humanity icon set, and as a result they are now seen for navigation controls, magnification and a few other actions rather than being as rampant as the ones in the Faenza icon set. The idea is to only affect icons where the shape of the icon itself portrays the action well on its own without needing more colour or definition, and to keep the monochrome icons guiding the desktop experience but not defining it; leaving the rest up to whatever the user selects as the partner icon set (which is DanRabbit's elementary icon set in the screenshot).

Some smaller tweaks I made which help provide a nice new look but are not as apparent as the bigger colour changes and icon additions include lowering the contrast of buttons to give them smoother borders and fixing various parts of the dark themed areas such as giving scale sliders and the sound menu track controls a lighter black highlight instead of the bright white highlight of menu items that they had in the beta releases.

As for GNOME3/GTK3, I will be doing a GTK3 version shortly but I wanted to get Lucidity 2.4 finished first and to a point where I like everything about it before I start learning how to theme GTK3 to give a nice base for what I want it to look like in the end. However, Lucidity will be getting a GTK3 version in its next release and will be moving up to version 3.0 itself. I will be developing it in Ubuntu Oneiric and Fedora 15 virtual machines to ensure it looks good in both Unity and GNOME Shell, and intend to have it ready as soon as I feel it lives up to the quality of the GTK2 version.