Saturday, January 30, 2010

Extending your desktop to TV with Karmic Koala


Ever since I've been using Ubuntu on my original laptop, I've been having great fun poking and prodding with its configuration, getting it to do some pretty fantastic things! My eventual goal is to turn this machine into a full fledged Linux-based HTPC (Home Theatre PC), and have been working on the project on and off to achieve that goal.

I don't have a high definition television, but the laptop comes equipped with a S-video out port, perfect for connecting the PC to my standard definition television. When I used to run openSuse, I had the proprietary ATI drivers installed and could use aticonfig to turn the extended desktop on and off.


Since switching to Karmic, I haven't quite been able to get this to work. The ATI drivers don't come installed by default, and they aren't open source anyway. I did make an attempt to install the drivers, but the OS seemed to ignore them and continue to use the open source drivers. I didn't want them unless necessary anyway, but the question remained: how to configure extended desktop without ATI config?

...and solutions!

The answer lies in the X Resize and Rotate Extension (RandR), or xrandr. If you run xrandr from Terminal, you should see something that looks like this:

Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1280 x 800, maximum 1280 x 1280
VGA-0 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
LVDS connected 1280x800+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 0mm x 0mm
1280x800 59.9*+
1280x720 59.9
1152x768 59.8
1024x768 60.0 59.9
800x600 60.3 59.9
640x480 59.9 59.4

On my laptop, LVDS refers to the LCD screen. Listed there are a number of possible resolutions and screen refresh rates.

To activate your S-video out (or VGA), you'll need to add a display mode for it. Use the addmode function of xrandr for this:

xrandr --addmode S-video 800x600

In this case, I want to set an S-video out mode of 800x600 resolution. You should then see the mode if you run xrandr again:

S-video disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
800x600 60.3

In order to actually use the S-video out, there are a number of options. The simplest is merely to activate it:

xrandr --output S-video --mode 800x600

But not quite...

This'll clone the desktop onto the S-video out. Unfortunately, since the LCD is running at 1280x800, you'll only see the top-left 800x600 pixels of your LCD display. This isn't particularly useful now is it? You can use the --pos YYYxZZZ option (e.g. --pos 100x100) option to move the output display around, but you'll still always be missing some of the screen.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that I hit a road block. I could clone the output, and move it around, but not get a dedicated output for the S-video out. What I decided to to was alter the command a little, I would turn off the LCD display, set the resolution to 800x600, then send it via the S-video:

xrandr --output LVDS --off --output S-video --mode 800x600

Now, I could have either a 1280x800 desktop on my LCD, or an 800x600 desktop on the TV. Not exactly what I wanted, but still sufficient for watching movies, videos, and even using the desktop on the TV.

Eventually, I realized what had to be done in order to extend the desktop.

  1. Make the "virtual desktop" (amount of screen area) bigger
  2. Use the --pos command to move the S-video output to the right of the LCD desktop.
xrandr has a --fb command for increasing the size of the "Frame Buffer" (the virtual desktop size). Alas, everytime I would try to change it, I'd get an error like this:

xrandr: screen cannot be larger than 1280x1280


Doing some searching, it seems the best advice was to configure the virtual desktop size in the Xorg.conf file (so the virtual screen size would be set while X server was starting). But hold on a moment...Ubuntu did away with Xorg.conf files in version 9.10! What to do? I made a few attempts at writing an Xorg.conf file by hand, but was always missing something causing my machine to reboot in "Low Graphics Mode". And my searches for changing the frame buffer without an xorg.conf, including a post on the Ubuntu forums, revealed no results.

Luckily, I found a post today on how to generate an xorg.conf from your current configuration. Essentially:

1. Reboot. When in grub, select to boot in recovery mode.
2. After logging in to a command prompt, run:
sudo Xorg -configure
3. This will create a file for you, likely in your home directory.
4. As root, copy this file into your /etc/X11/ folder (remember: back up the old one if there's already one there!)
5. Rename it to xorg.conf
6. Open your favorite editor (you can run startx now and do this from X Windows if you don't want to from the command line)
7. Find the "screen" module.
8. You'll see listed a number of display sections like so:

SubSection "Display"
Viewport 0 0
Depth 24
To the most common ones (or even just the ones you'll use), add the following line:

Virtual 2080 800

9. Save, and restart.

Upon running xrandr at a command line now, you should see your virtual desktop has changed:

Screen 0: minimum 320 x 200, current 1280 x 800, maximum 2080 x 800.

You can now use the --pos to set your S-video output to 1280x0, which will put the video output to the right of the current desktop and Volia! Extended Desktop! You can now drag windows over to it (such as videos), full screen them, move them, even see your desktop effects!

Wrapping it up

To prevent having to use xrandr all the time, I made a few simple scripts for configuring the TV Out.

1. Go into your home folder. Create a folder called "Scripts".
2. We're going to make three scripts:
One for turning the TV out on in Extended Desktop, One for Clone Mode, and one for turning it off. First the deactivate script:
3. First, deactivate: In gedit (or another editor), paste the following into a text file:

xrandr --output LVDS --mode 1280x800 --output S-video --off
This'll deactivate the S-video and make sure your LCD is the main display. Save it as "Deactivate_TV_Out" or something alone those lines.

4. Now, activate in clone mode:

xrandr --addmode S-video 800x600
xrandr --output LVDS --off --output S-video --mode 800x600
and save as "Activate_TV_Out_Clone"

5. Finally, extended mode!

xrandr --addmode S-video 800x600
xrandr --output S-video --mode 800x600 --pos 1280x0

Call it "Activate_TV_Out_Extended"

6. For each file, right click and go to "Properties".

7. Under the permissions tab, click to allow for executing as program.

You can now click each of those to move back and forth between the various mode. Sometimes, you might have to deactivate the TV-out in order to activate it in a different mode. You can make shortcuts to these scripts, or as I did, set keyboard shortcuts:

1. Go to System->Preferences->Keyboard Shortcuts
2. Go to Add.
3. Give the shortcut a name "Activate_TV_Out_Extended", and point command to your script, e.g.
4. Do this for each of the other two scripts.

Make sure to use unassigned shortcuts, I used Ctrl-F1, F2 and F3 respectively. I am a bit unsure of including the "xrandr --addmode S-video 800x600" each time the script is run, but it doesn't seem to cause any problems. Without the mode being added, activating the TV out won't work. If I do find a way to keep the mode consistent, I'll update it here. Good luck, I hope others find these instructions useful (provided without any guarantees)! To end my post: something I haven't shown you yet on my blog: Jay's Desktop! I suppose it's about time =P.

Take care everyone!

Monday, January 25, 2010


First, human kind gazed into space.

Then, human kind sent objects into space.

Then, human kind sent itself into space.

Then, human kind landed on another world.

And now...

Human kind can tweet....from space!

Yes, despite the lack of air that might be required for more traditional tweeting, extra-terrestrial electronic tweeting is alive and well! Just ask astronaut TJ Creamer, who thanks to him, you can follow someone not on planet Earth.

As a self described geek, this combines at least two of my various obsessions: The Internet and Space. Col. Creamer's older posts appear to him working on getting it working: presumably tweeting by a proxy on earth. But now the middle man can be cut out, at least mostly so. One site suggests that the tweeting (and web access in general) is actually done via taking control of a computer on the ground, ala remote desktop.

Nevertheless, allowing astronauts to have internet access on the ISS can only help to further and promote space travel. With access to resources like Twitter, Facebook, even VOIP products, hopefully astronauts won't feel quite so isolated, which may encourage more travel. Let's just hope they don't get any viruses. But then again, they should probably be using Linux anyway :).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Geeks and Nerds

I remembered reading this on some miscellaneous website several years ago. I'm not sure who the original author is, but several sources point to Craigslist.

The article is written from a female's point of view, discussing the merit's of various "personality" types. As a self defined geek, I find the article quite a good read, and something others many benefit from as well so I'm re-posting it here. I also find it quite accurate, though personally I'd pick a can of apple or peach juice over Mountain Dew :).


In the wide world of dating, there are many options. Do you go for the flashy guy with the smooth smile, or the dude in the corner typing away on his laptop? The following are reasons why I think my fellow females should pay more attention to the quiet geeks and nerds, and less attention to the flashy boys.

1.) While geeks and nerds may be awkward, they’re well-meaning 9 out of 10 times. That smooth dude with the sly grin and the spider hands? Wonder what HIS intentions are… plus, I’ve never had a geek guy not call me when he said he would. Score major points THERE.

2.) They’re useful. In this tech-savvy world, it’s great to have a b/f who can make your laptop, desktop, and just about anything else that plugs into a wall behave itself.

3.) They’re more romantic than they’re given credit for. Ok true, their idea of romance might be to make up a spiffy web-page with all the reasons why they love you, with links to pics of you and sonnets and such… but hey. It lasts longer than flowers, plus you can show your friends.

4.) Due to their neglected status, there are plenty to choose from. You like ‘em tall and slender? There are plenty of geeks/nerds who are. You like ‘em smaller with more meat on their bones? Got that too.

5.) They’ve got brains. Come on now, how can intelligence be a bad thing?

6.) Most are quite good at remembering dates. Like birthdates and such, especially if they know it’ll make you happy. Due again to their neglected status, they’re more attentive than guys who “have more options”. Plus, with all that down time without a steady girlfriend, they’ll likely have mental lists of all the things they’d love to do once they GOT a girlfriend.

7.) Sex. Yep. Sex. I’m not really familiar with this myself, but I’ve friends who’ve been intimate with geek guys and it’s raves all around. They say a virgin wrote the Kama Sutra… all that time thinking about sex, imagining sex, dreaming about sex, (they are male after all) coupled with a desire to make you happy? Use your imagination.

8.) They’re relatively low-maintenance. Most can be fueled on pizza, Twinkies and Mt Dew. No complicated dinners needed here, so if you’re not the best cook, eh. Can you order a pizza?

9.) Most frequent bars as often as slugs frequent salt mines. You won’t have to worry much about your geek guy getting his “groove” on with club hotties because, frankly, he’ll be too busy rooting around under his computer wondering where that spare cable went. You won’t have to worry about him flirting with other women because, 9 out of 10 times, he’ll zip right by them in a perfect b-line towards the nearest electronics store. I’ve seen this happen.
Me: “Eww. Victoria Secret’s Models… They’re so skinny. How is that feminine? You can see her ribs!”
Geek Guy: “ooooooo…”
Me: “Hey!” *notices he is staring lustfully towards the computer store*
Geek Guy: “What?”
Me: “Never mind…”

10.) Although he may not want to go to every outing with you, you can arrange swaps, as in, you’ll go to his Gamer Con dressed as an elf princess if he’ll take you to the ballet. Plus, if he doesn’t want to go someplace with you, you won’t have to worry much about what he’s up to. You’ll probably come home to find him asleep on his keyboard in a sea of Mt. Dew cans with code blinking from the screen. It’s ok. He’s used to this. Just toss a blanket over him and turn out the light.

11.) His friends aren’t jerks. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll more likely get “Omg! A GIRL!! Can I see?!” than “Hey hot stuff back that ass up here and let me get some grub on…” They’re awkward geeks too and will, 9 times out of 10, treat you with the utmost respect and, more than likely, a note of awe. A cute girl picked one of their clan to date? It could happen to them! Hope! Drag some of your single girlfriends over, open up a pack of Mt. Dew, crack open the DnD set and get working. Nothing impresses geek guys more than a girl who can hack-n-slash (well ok maybe if she can code… a geek can dream).

12.) They’re rarely if ever possessive. They trust you, so you can be yourself around them. You like to walk around the house in a ratty t-shirt for comfort? He won’t care. He does too! They won’t get pissy if you don’t wear make-up or don’t want to bother primping your hair. If you gain a few pounds, they won’t try their best to make you feel like crap.

13.) They’re usually very well educated. Physics majors and the like. See #5. You won’t have to listen to him blathering on about his car (ok maybe a little), he’ll have loads of other interesting things to talk about. Politics, world events, how much the chicken burgers down at the local place rock, so long as you douse them in hot sauce…

14.) You’ll almost never have to hear, “Yaw dawg whazzap!!” plop out of their mouths. Unless it’s in jest. They spell properly, use correct punctuation, and are able to tell the difference between the toilet and the floor. They almost never get “wasted”, so you won’t have to worry about coming home to find him and his friends passed out on the floor amidst a pile of beer bottles. Mt. Dew cans, perhaps…

15.) And the final reason why geeks and nerds make great boyfriends: They actually give a damn about you. Not how you look (though that’s a plus), not how skinny you are, not how much make-up you primp yourself up with, but they like you for you. That kind of thing lasts longer than “DaMN baby you got a fine ass!!!” Believe me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Virtual Box version fixes Gnome display issues

Happy Friday!

As a frequent user of virtual machines, I find myself quite impressed with their usefulness. Virtual machines allow you to emulate entire other operating systems within a host operating, called a virtual machine. You can even carry virtual machines with you from computer to computer and always have a custom system set up for your needs. Three common Virtual Machine platforms include Virtual Box, VMWare and Windows Virtual PC.

Due to it's freedom and flexibility, I tend to choose Virtual Box over option options. It has an extensive suite of features including seamless mode, mouse/keyboard integration, various device support and many more. It's also available for free under the personal use and evaluation license, and also has an open source edition.

One minor problem I've been having with Virtual Box involves the GNOME desktop environment used in many Linux distributions including Ubuntu.

The problem being that when one saves the VM execution state, and then resumes that state, the GNOME desktop graphic set (that is, its look and feel) appears to mysteriously change. Here's how it should look (click on the image to enlarge):

and after returning from a saved state:

As you can see, a number of icons have changed including the mail icon, terminal icon, network, sound, recycle bin. I would have to shut down GNOME and restart it (log back in) in order to restore their icons to the normal state.

I spent some time trying to figure out what was causing the odd issue, but to no avail. Nevertheless, I'm happy to report that upgrading to Virtual Box, 3.1.2, appears to fix this issue. Upon resuming from a saved state, the icons are no longer changed, or if they are, will immediately revert to the correct form! Fantastic!