Saturday, March 12, 2016

HP Stream 11 Restart Loop

Documenting this for other poor unfortunate souls, since I couldn't find anything when I first searched "hp stream 11 bootloop."

After a month of disuse, I picked up my HP Stream 11 (specifically model 11-d077nr.) On this machine I had installed Debian with grub-efi. Due to sitting so long without a charge, the CMOS had an invalid checksum and had to be cleared. Unfortunately, this resets the SecureBoot enable value to true. More unfortunately, instead of giving me an error on startup saying that it was trying to boot unsigned code, it just sat in a restart loop, showing only a black screen before restarting, indefinitely, not responding to the escape key for the menu. The boot loop occurred so fast I wasn't really sure if the firmware wasn't somehow corrupted and the machine munged beyond recognition. If a pre-EFI PC had displayed these symptoms, I would've assumed it had a hardware fault.

The solution was fairly straightforward; I just needed to boot it off of signed boot media. I had retained the recovery flash drive I had created from the OEM image when I first got it. I plugged it in, and lo and behold, I got an HP logo, and was able to hit escape to bring up the system menu and disable SecureBoot.

Not a particularly difficult troubleshooting session, but it would've saved me the mild anxiety of assuming it had been bricked if I could've found this in 2 seconds of Googling.

As a positive side-effect, looking at the maintenance manual for the HP Stream 11, I noticed that the wifi card that had been flaky for me was just one possible supported configuration of the hardware, and that it was not, as I had assumed, soldered on to mainboard. So I have an Intel dualband card coming in the mail to replace the single-band Realtek that mine shipped with.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

32-bit Firefox, 32-bit Adobe Flash, and 64 bit Linux.

I'm documenting my past two days of misery and torment so that if some other poor soul needs to do Flash development on Linux, they may be able to find this and be spared. I'll minimize the ranting and focus on the solution. This is a solution for the "grey box" or "Movie not loaded..." problem in 32-bit Flash on 64 bit Debian Linux. If you want the short answer, skip to the bottom.

My day-to-day work requires that I have the debugging Flash player installed. The Adobe Flash Debug Player for Linux/NPAPI is only available in 32-bit, unlike the production player which is available in 64-bit now. It is also not available for PPAPI yet. The problem is, it's not entirely obvious how to get this working on a fresh Debian amd64 install, and it's quite possible to accidentally have all the needed dependencies.

If you DON'T have all the dependencies, the plugin will still load and be recognized by Firefox, but will fail in a peculiar way: Flash elements in pages will load up the plugin context, but not draw anything at all. You'll wind up with a corrupted buffer which doesn't properly even rerender on expose events. You can still right-click the Flash element and get a right-click menu, but it is only populated with "Movie not loaded...", "Debugger", and "Show Redraw Regions" greyed out, and "About Adobe Flash $VERSION" not greyed out.

I had a few false starts, trying to install the exact same subset of packages that were on one of my working machines to the nonworking machine, which I never got working right but likely would have resolved my problem. I also sat there for several hours pouring over strace output to isolate the point at which a system call returned differently and caused Flash to fail, though this approach also bore no fruit.

There are very few instances I could find on The Internet of the "Movie not loaded..." error, and most of them turned out to be some combination of needing to clear the cache, or just a misconfiguration of the site. The closest I could find to what seemed to be my problem was posted by this gentleman. While his problem was very different in nature, and in fact the error message that brought me there seemingly entirely irrelevant to what the problem wound up being, his mention of a library that was not listed as part of the 'ldd' output from served provided me the crucial hint I needed to continue.

After searching the output of executing 'strings' on for libraries, I came across libcurl.  As it turns out, it depends on several libraries that aren't part of its list of dynamically linked libraries, presumably because it uses dlopen/dlsym to access them. So even if 'ldd ~/.mozilla/plugins/' doesn't show any missing libraries. As the link above shows, libsasl is one of them, and as I've discovered, libcurl is one of them. In retrospect, the latter should have been obvious, as libcurl3-gnutls is listed as a dependency of the flashplugin-nonfree package in Debian.

If you run into the same problem, 'apt-get install libcurl3:i386' should set you right. I hope this saves someone out there a few days of effort and frustration. As suggested by the link above, you may find you need to install the i386 libsasl package as well.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Critique of the GMail Preview Theme

I'm really not too enthusiastic about GMail's "new look." Sure, from a visual design standpoint it's more consistent with Google's brand, and largely less visually jarring, but it does this at the cost of reducing the usability of the interface.

The color choices of the new interface are lower contrast and convey only slightly more information. The buttons for mailbox management are less prominent in the new design, moving to a dark-grey-on-light-grey scheme away from a strong black on manila coloration. The new buttons, honestly, look vaguely like they are inactive. I will admit an improvement, however, in that they now have on-hover effects to make it clear they are an interactive element.

The new design of GMail also eliminates some useful indicators of grouping and active/inactive elements. The new design uses coloration of the text (which has no obvious meaning aside from "look at me.") instead of a a clear association of the background of the label with the content area's border.

Additionally, dividers were almost entirely eradicated. There is no clear division between the labels, the content pane, and between the various modes and the labels. As a side effect of some of this, the mailbox management buttons are orphaned, floating in a white void with little to visually suggest them as a unified group. Though a mailbox with messages in it is somewhat differentiated by a different backdrop color, it still feels like too much is left implied.

I hope Google revisits some of the design decisions. Maybe lowering the border contrast and softening the buttons of the original would fix it, and removing some of the unnecessary padding.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Socialism and "The Worker"

One of my main reasons I am hesitant at times to describe myself as socialist is the continued use of the antiquated term 'worker' to describe the group that is primarily put at risk by capital. While it may be technically accurate to describe anyone who does not in large part own and control the means of production as a 'worker,' it nonetheless has some unflattering connotations that wind up alienating a substantial portion of the United States population.

When the word 'worker' falls upon my ears, it conjures to mind coal miners, steel-mill workers, and manufacturing line operators. I don't think to describe myself as a 'worker,' or any of my friends and colleagues who tirelessly perform the labors of love that are research, engineering, or infrastructure management. We don't sweat, (generally,) we don't come home after every day looking for respite from the day's work, and oftentimes we don't resent our employers who often share our love and enthusiasm for our work. "White-collar" workers are workers too, and I think the use of the terms "labor" and "worker" doesn't encapsulate this.

While I am unsure of what term should be used to replace it, the socialist movement would be best served by replacing it with some other, more neutral term. The goals of socialism don't just serve to benefit the unfortunate or the blue-collar workers, they serve to benefit the populace as a whole. We all fear for our security in the case of illness, disability, and unemployment. We all worry about whether the products we use are safe and fairly-priced. More importantly, we all care in some measure for our fellow human being, while not seeking to be demonized for our own fortune. Instead of trying to divide the argument into 'us' and 'them,' I think that socialist organizations should try to move more towards discussions about 'the people' and 'citizens' instead of about 'the working people,' 'the working class,' 'workers,' and 'laborers.'

Monday, February 7, 2011

Manufacturing is Dead; Long Live Manufacturing

Misleading Truth is Misleading.

Yes, America still leads in manufacturing. Does it matter to most people? No. As this article points out, accurately, China mainly has taken the lead in "labor-intensive" goods. If people are mostly buying Chinese goods and can't find work making these low-end goods, they have legitimate reason to believe that we've fallen behind.

Our lead in highend products is all well and good for owners of capital, but the sentiments expressed in song and popular culture are still valid.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Review of "Liberal Fascism: From Mussolini to the Politics of Change"

I admit defeat.

Not in the sense that this book changed my mind and I'm now a die-hard conservative, or even that it softened my attitude to the book's thesis. I mean in the sense that it defeated my will to finish it.

Beyond the factual errors, or selective citations of facts, a subject which others have thoroughly covered, Goldberg's writing style is just atrocious, full of logical leaps, snarky asides, and irritating rhetorical devices.

The first logical section of the book on the history of the fascist movement and the interplay of American left-wing politics with it is actually not all that horrible, and is what made me feel it was worth grinning and bearing. Yes, it brought up a lot of the more uncomfortable skeletons in the collective closet of liberalism. No, none of it was actually condemning from a policy angle. He did himself a great disservice, however, by making snide comments about how liberals THINK history went, and how it is hypocritical of them to call conservatives fascist. It essentially took a break from actually informing to simply construct a contemporary liberal straw-man to be torn down just as quickly on more than one occasion. If he was looking to convince a liberal, he would have lost the more dogmatic liberals within a few pages with this tic.

Even within the history portion, he took to psychiatrist-couching progressive leaders, casting them in a very negative light through their upbringing, early influences, etc. While this is interesting with regard to the ostensible thesis of the book, you can't help but shake the implication that these influences clouded their judgement or somehow twisted them, which is a boon to his underlying obvious goal of discrediting liberalism. He was engaging in ad hominem attacks in all but a direct sense. These flaws made the book largely unremarkable, but not unreadable.

As he pivots to the latter half of the century, he starts making fairly contradictory claims about the motives and base premises of liberal thinkers. In one paragraph he will decry the iconoclasm and rejection of knowledge, history, and elders during the upheaval of the '60s, and the next he will claim that we are all out to replace rule by the people with rule by experts. He rails on about how the pro-choice and sexual liberation movements were anti-Black, but then goes on about Black supremacists and how liberals are in cahoots with them. Maybe these contradictions are his point, but he doesn't make it lucid enough to seem anything but an unintentional consequence of chaining incompatible attacks together. He seems to be mistaken in what liberalism, as it is today, is: a conglomeration of different groups with different motives. Just as I would be hard-pressed to lump together the social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and moderate Republicans, he should find himself equally as hard-pressed to conflate the populist left, the socialists, the fascists, etc.

This is about when my will broke. After looking up yet another uncited claim that seemed unlikely, and determining that he was flat-out wrong on the matter, I read on in hopes that he might elucidate his reasoning that lead him to make this claim. No reasoning followed, merely letting his point stand on an appeal to correlation. At that point, I safely placed Goldberg in my box of conservatives who don't know how to interpret statistics, or deliberately misinterpreted them, and was simultaneously incapable of making even a cohesive intuitive argument, and removed the book from my Kindle.

If I wanted to read another couple hundred pages of tenuously linked drivel, I would go read conservative blogs. If this is all that intellectual conservatives have to offer, I am deeply disappointed.

To be clear, if you can stomach the obvious propagandizing that becomes a growing portion of the text as the book goes on, it's not a bad look at history if taken with a grain of salt. I think more liberals would do well to know some of the things about the origins of progressivism that he discusses. However, I can only watch a well-researched writer attack the weakest the left has to offer for so long.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Free Market and The Role of Media

The role of the press in a democratic state is to provide information to the public such that they can make informed decisions. However, as it stands now it is currently not selected for by the wonderful pseudo-genetic algorithm called market economics. (The rough equivalence of the market economy and a genetic algorithm will be discussed in a later post.) As our understanding of human psychology grows beyond the concept of the rational tabula rasa, the lessons learned by advertisers and content producers through the trial-and-error process of market economics come into clearer focus, and with it, the perils of abusing these quirks of human thought.

However, there are many cases where rate of consumption has little relation to the net societal value of a good. In the case of information, this disconnect can be easily demonstrated by examining trends in news stories; the dry, non-personal details of economic policy and of the more subtle findings of scientists do not appeal to the highly social human animal, whereas creating an illusion of intimacy with powerful or famous people via inspection of their personal habits draws a wide viewership. Policy and politics do not interest people nearly as much as politicians, the plot and production intricacies of films do not interest them as much as the actors and directors behind them. The human element is what draws people into cable news and, to a certain extent, print news, not the naturalist observation of humanity that would be required for sound thinking about the issues which these individuals have a hand in.

While this observation is somewhat obvious, the fact that this hasn't been accounted for by free market ideologues in their passionate attack on the idea of state-funded media is somewhat telling. Many people of all ideological stripes acknowledge the problem posed by a media with dwindling standards for journalistic substance and objectivity, but few are willing to offer solutions, or even are willing to call out the causes aside from blaming consumers.

Of those who do complain about causes, oftentimes, those who are inclined towards free market ideologies will blame the perceived "plague" of reform-liberalism thinking as a direct result of the market impulses they extol as virtuous, invoking the impact of business and special-interest groups upon the state and media to declare the illegitimacy of the views and policies of both, ignorant to the irony of their complaints. Surely it is the right of "Big Labor" to supply money to whomsoever they want? What should stop news organizations from accepting money in return for favorable coverage of politicians or businesses? What should stop a business like News Corp or Disney from using stations and news outlets they own as their own personal mouthpieces? Expressing outrage against this is surely inconsistent if you take a classical liberal standpoint, and certainly if you take a modern libertarian stance on the matter. If you give people the right to say whatever they want, however they want, and at whatever scale they want, you should be surrendering the ability to complain about impropriety when they do so.

The business models of mass media have remained largely unchanged, and are unfortunately both tied directly to consumption, not quality. Advertising, and subscription revenue (either directly or indirectly through service carriers) are in essence the only way to monetize the press. Subscription revenue (particularly, print media ones) have the benefit of providing enough latency that people aren't repeatedly questioning their choice of news source, and are thus less likely to change on a whim to something "more interesting." The fallacy of sunk cost winds up working in our favor, as people read "boring" content because they've already paid for it. Advertising-driven revenue from free services, on the other hand, provides little incentive for a consumer to suffer through content that might not tickle their emotional and social centers. They can simply flit between these services on a whim, seeking the juiciest celebrity gossip and the most apocalyptic-toned political punditry. The market responds, advertisers shift to the more "interesting" sites to get better numbers, and we're a poorer culture for it.

The death of investigative journalism has been lamented at length by other authors, and so I won't expound upon it here. But to summarize the arguments I've heard elsewhere, fickle revenue streams combined with aggressive profit drive and concerns about time-to-press minimize the incentive for outlets to publish well-researched pieces, and instead often just regurgitate press releases and official statements as a side effect.

While I think that state and state-regulated media should be approached with great caution, I posit that some of the worst effects of state media have easily already happened in a slightly different form with private media. The market response is not the fault, nor are consumers. We are all human, and a finger-wag to "be better consumers" does not do much to override our innate tendency to consume what we desire, especially if doing so has no obvious detriment to others. The media responding to financial incentives, however, has created the conditions for media bias, factual inaccuracy, and sheer vacuous coverage to plague our airwaves. Some action needs to be taken, and relying on the markets to correct it is clearly not the solution.