A Weird Imagination

How not to fix USB HID errors

The error

I was having trouble with a USB joystick adapter (an EMS Playstation controller adapter, to be specific). When I plugged it in, it wouldn't work and checking dmesg showed the same error getting generated over and over again (at least once per second):

$ dmesg
...
[81700.968873] usbhid 6-1:1.0: can't add hid device: -71
[81700.968885] usbhid: probe of 6-1:1.0 failed with error -71
[81700.968986] usb usb6-port1: disabled by hub (EMI?), re-enabling...
[81700.968991] usb 6-1: USB disconnect, device number 53
[81701.208025] usb 6-1: new low-speed USB device number 54 using uhci_hcd
[81701.384866] usb 6-1: string descriptor 0 read error: -32
...

The wrong fix

I decided the sensible thing to do was to reload the driver:

$ sudo modprobe -r usbhid  # Bad idea, don't run this

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PulseAudio

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PulseAudio is what most modern Linux distributions use as a sound server, the part of the sound subsystem that sits between applications and the sound driver supporting features like allowing multiple applications to output sound simultaneously. PulseAudio adds various features not present in other Linux sound servers like per-application volume controls and easily outputting to different audio devices (for instance, using HDMI audio instead of the normal audio jack).

PulseAudio can be controlled using pavucontrol, which is a GUI audio mixer. It shows a volume meter and control for every application producing sound as well as an option to choose which audio device it is outputting to. It additionally lists all of the hardware input and output devices, as you would expect from an audio mixer.

Fixing problems

Restarting PulseAudio

If PulseAudio is not working properly, you can restart it by running

$ killall -9 pulseaudio

No, really, that's what Debian's PulseAudio page says to do.

When I initially installed PulseAudio, it didn't have my sound cards listed and just had the default null outuput, making it not very useful. Running that command to restart it fixed it.

Muted devices

PulseAudio seems to mute my sound card all by itself. Currently, I just go into pavucontrol and unmute it.

Detachable X sessions

X forwarding

Normally with X, it's easy to run an application on a remote computer just by using X forwarding:

local:~$ ssh -X host
host:~$ echo $DISPLAY
localhost:20.0
host:~$ xterm

The xterm will appear on your local computer.

But if you want to continue working with that application on a different remote computer (or once you are physically in front of the computer it is running on), then you're out of luck.

For an application running in the terminal, you can start it inside a GNU Screen (or tmux) session which you can detach and then attach to again on another ssh connection.

GNU Screen for X

xpra (X Persistent Remote Applications) lets you move graphical applications from one computer to another in addition to fixing other problems with X forwarding. If you instead use xpra for the forwarding, then you can detach and reattach to the session at will.

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Impromptu dice

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Dice in shell

Today I was borrowing a board game from the lending library at Emerald City Comicon and it was missing its dice. We could have gotten some physical dice somewhere, but instead we decided to use the materials we had on hand. The people I was playing with agreed that we did not want to drain our phone batteries by using a dice app on our phones, but I had a laptop with me. So I wrote a dice app for the shell:

while true
do
    reset
    seq 1 6 | shuf -n1
    seq 1 6 | shuf -n1
    read
done

This rolls two six-sided dice every time you hit enter and clears the screen before showing the result using reset.

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Fixing broken alternatives

The problem

Trying to install the python-numpy package in Debian Unstable ("Sid") I got the following error on the liblapack3 package (seen also in this bug):

$ sudo apt-get install -f
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 36 not upgraded.
4 not fully installed or removed.
After this operation, 0 B of additional disk space will be used.
Setting up liblapack3 (3.5.0-4) ...
update-alternatives: error: alternative liblapack.so.3gf can't be slave of liblapack.so.3: it is a master alternative
dpkg: error processing package liblapack3 (--configure):
 subprocess installed post-installation script returned error exit status 2
dpkg: dependency problems prevent configuration of python-numpy:
 python-numpy depends on liblapack3 | liblapack.so.3; however:
  Package liblapack3 is not configured yet.
  Package liblapack.so.3 is not installed.
  Package lapack3 which provides liblapack.so.3 is not installed.
  Package atlas3-base which provides liblapack.so.3 is not installed.
  Package liblapack3 which provides liblapack.so.3 is not configured yet.
  Package libatlas3-base which provides liblapack.so.3 is not installed.

The solution

Run the following command to fix the error:

$ sudo update-alternatives --remove-all liblapack.so.3gf

And then rerun the install:

$ sudo apt-get install -f

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The clipboard in the command-line

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X clipboard

The X Window System, the basis for the GUI on most desktop Linux systems, defines how the clipboard works for copying and pasting between applications in Linux. One notable quark of X clipboard is that there's actually two clipboards in common use: the one you expect explicitly accessed via Copy and Paste menu items or key shortcuts called the CLIPBOARD and another one where you copy by selecting text and paste by pressing the middle mouse button called the PRIMARY selection.

X clipboard utilities

Occasionally it is useful to be able to read or write the clipboard at the command-line. For most uses, your terminal emulator's copy and paste options are probably enough. The primary use case I have for using a command-line program to interact with the clipboard is when I am uploading a file as a Gist:

<file xclip

The xclip utility will copy the contents of the file onto the clipboard (PRIMARY, not CLIPBOARD, by default) and then I can paste it on the Gist website.

My system also has xsel which is very similar to xclip. Wikipedia actually lists several such programs, including the unfortunately named xcopy, not to be confused with XCOPY.

GNU Screen copy mode

GNU Screen provides its own clipboard for copying information between the different windows of a screen session. ctrl+a, [ enters copy mode. In copy mode you can move the cursor using the arrow keys and page up/page down keys. Screen keeps a history (of configurable size), so you can scroll back pretty far. In fact, I use Screen's copy mode far more often for viewing the history in a terminal than for actually copying anything. You can exit copy mode either by using esc to cancel or enter once to mark the start of the selection and again to mark the end of it. Once you have copied something, ctrl+a, ] pastes the contents of the clipboard.

Custom Bullshit Sans

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So, you saw Sans Bullshit Sans (which I previously blogged about) and thought that Sans Bullshit Sans font is cool, but its word list doesn't really match up with my field's bullshit?

As mentioned in that previous post, Sans Bullshit Sans is open-source and comes with a detailed blog post explaining how it was made. Which means we can follow those instructions to modify the word list.

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LaTeX table environment in Madoko

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What is Madoko?

Madoko is an extension of Markdown for scholarly papers. In essence, it is a competitor to LaTeX, which, along with Microsoft Word, is the way the vast majority of such papers are presently authored.

Madoko targets both HTML and LaTeX output in order to be compatible with existing workflows while encouraging the creation of HTML versions of papers which are presently rare as PDF is the default for publishing even though it is sub-optimal for reading on a screen.

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Rarely drawing screen in SDL

The problem

Working on the same screensaver as yesterday, we want to minimize CPU usage. Since the screensaver is a clock showing hours and minutes, there's no need to do anything except once a minute to change the time display. Optimally, the process would only be scheduled once a minute, exactly when the minute changed, to draw the screen.

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SDL screensaver hangs on exit

The problem

I was modifying a screensaver written using SDL and noticed that sometimes there were many instances of it left running, even after unlocking the screen. Another bug was causing the screensaver to use 100% CPU, resulting in it using up all of my processing power just for a simple screensaver.

The solution

Make the program exit immediately when it receives a SIGTERM signal by including the function

void exitImmediately(int sig) {
    abort();
}

and making the SIGTERM signal handler call it:

signal(SIGTERM, exitImmediately);

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