A look at Google’s Pixel C

Since my last thoughts on trips away without a laptop, I have come by Google’s Pixel C. It is a 10″ tablet so it may not raise hackles on an aircraft like the 12.9″ screen of the large Apple iPad Pro might. The one that I have tried comes with 64 GB of storage space and its companion keyboard cover (there is a folio version). Together, they can be bought for £448, a saving of £150 on the full price.

Google Pixel C

The Pixel C keyboard cover uses strong magnets to hold the tablet onto it and that does mean some extra effort when changing between the various modes. These include covering the tablet screen as well as piggy backing onto it with the screen side showing or attached in such a way that allows typing. The latter usefully allows you to vary the screen angle as you see fit instead of having to stick with whatever is selected for you by a manufacturer. Unlike the physical connection offered by an iPad Pro, Bluetooth is the means offered by the Pixel C and it works just as well from my experiences so far. Because of the smaller size, it feels a little cramped in comparison with a full size keyboard or even that with a 12.9″ iPad Pro. They also are of the scrabble variety though they work well otherwise.

The tablet itself is impressively fast compared to a HTC One A9 phone or even a Google Nexus 9 and that became very clear when it came to installing or updating apps. The speed is just as well since an upgrade to Android 7 (Nougat) was needed on the one that I tried. You can turn on adaptive brightness too, which is a bonus. Audio quality is nowhere near as good as a 12.9″ iPad Pro but that of the screen easily is good enough for assessing photos stored on a WD My Passport Wireless portable hard drive using the WD My Cloud app.

All in all, it may offer that bit more flexibility for overseas trips compared to the bigger iPad Pro so I am tempted to bring one with me instead. The possibility of seeing newly captured photos in slideshow mode is a big selling point since it does functions well for tasks like writing emails or blog posts, like this one since it started life on there. Otherwise, this is a well made device.

A fallback method of installing Nightingale in Linux

When I upgraded to Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 and went for the 64-bit variant, I tried a previously tried and tested approach for installing Nightingale that used a PPA only for it not to work. At that point, the repository had not caught up with the latest Ubuntu release (it has by the time of writing) and other pre-compiled packages would not work either. However, there was one further possibility left and that was downloading a copy of the source code and compiling that. My previous experiences of doing that kind of thing have not been universally positive so it was not my first choice but I gave it a go anyway.

In order to get the source code, I first needed to install Git so I could take a copy from the version controlled repository and the following command added the tool and all its dependencies:

sudo apt-get install git autoconf g++ libgtk2.0-dev libdbus-glib-1-dev libtag1-dev libgstreamer-plugins-base0.10-dev zip unzip

With that lot installed, it was time to checkout a copy of the latest source code and I went with the following:

git clone https://github.com/nightingale-media-player/nightingale-hacking.git

The next step was to go into the nightingale-hacking sub-folder and issue the following command:

./build.sh

That should produce a sub-directory named nightingale that contains the compiled executable files. If this exists, it can be copied into /opt. If not, then create a folder named nightingale under /opt using copy the files from ~/nightingale-hacking/compiled/dist into that location. Ubuntu GNOME 13.10 comes with GNOME Shell 3.8, the next step took a little fiddling before it was sorted: adding an icon to application menu or dashboard. This involved adding a file called nightingale.desktop in /usr/share/applications/ with the following contents:

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Nightingale
Comment=Play music
TryExec=/opt/nightingale/nightingale
Exec=/opt/nightingale/nightingale
Icon=/usr/share/pixmaps/nightingale.xpm
Type=Application
X-GNOME-DocPath=nightingale/index.html
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Bugzilla=Nightingale
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Product=nightingale
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Component=BugBuddyBugs
X-GNOME-Bugzilla-Version=1.1.2
Categories=GNOME;Audio;Music;Player;AudioVideo;
StartupNotify=true
OnlyShowIn=GNOME;Unity;
Keywords=Run;
Actions=New
X-Ubuntu-Gettext-Domain=nightingale

[Desktop Action New]
Name=Nightingale
Exec=/opt/nightingale/nightingale
OnlyShowIn=Unity

It was created from a copy of another *.desktop file and the categories in there together with the link to the icon were as important as the title and took a little tinkering before all was in place.  Also, you may find that /opt/nightingale/chrome/icons/default/default.xpm needs to be become /usr/share/pixmaps/nightingale.xpm using the cp command before your new menu entry gains an icon to go with it. While the steps that I describe here worked for me, there is more information on the Nightingale wiki if you need it.

Still able to build PC systems

This weekend has been something of a success for me on the PC hardware front. Earlier this year, a series of mishaps rendering my former main home PC unusable; it was a power failure that finished it off for good. My remedy was a rebuild using my then usual recipe of a Gigabyte motherboard, AMD CPU and crucial memory. However, assembling the said pieces never returned the thing to life and I ended up in no man’s land for a while, dependent on and my backup machine and laptop. That wouldn’t have been so bad but for the need for accessing data from the old behemoth’s hard drives but an external drive housing set that in order. Nevertheless, there is something unfinished about work with machines having a series of external drives hanging off them. That appearance of disarray was set to rights by the arrival of a bare bones system from Novatech in July with any assembly work restricted to the kitchen table.There was a certain pleasure in seeing a system come to life after my developing a fear that I had lost all of my PC building prowess.

That restoration of order still left finding out why those components bought earlier in the year didn’t work together well enough to give me a screen display on start-up. Having electronics testing equipment and the knowledge of its correct use would make any troubleshooting far easier but I haven’t got these. There is a place near to me where I could go for this but you are left wondering what might be said to a PC build gone wrong. Of course, the last thing that you want to be doing is embarking on a series of purchases that do not fix the problem, especially in the current economic climate.

One thing to suspect when all doesn’t turn out as hoped is the motherboard and, for whatever reason, I always suspect it last. It now looks as if that needs to change after I discovered that it was the Gigabyte motherboard that was at fault. Whether it was faulty from the outset or it came a cropper with a rogue power supply or careless with static protection is something that I’ll never know. An Asus motherboard did go rogue on me in the past and it might be that it ruined CPU’s and even a hard drive before I laid it to rest. Its eventual replacement put a stop to a year of computing misfortune and kick-started my reliance on Gigabyte. That faith is under question now but the 2009 computing hardware mishap seems to be behind me and any PC rebuilds will be done on tables and motherboards will be suspected earlier when anything goes awry.

Returning to the present, my acquisition of an ASRock K10N78 and subsequent building activities has brought a new system using an AMD Phenom X4 CPU and 4 GB of memory into use. In fact, I writing these very words using the thing. It’s all in a new TrendSonic case too (placing an elderly behemoth into retirement) and with a SATA hard drive and DVD writer. The new motherboard has onboard audio and graphics so external cards are not needed unless you are an audiophile and/or a gamer; for the record, I am neither. Those additional facilities make for easier building and fault-finding should the undesirable happen.

The new box is running the release candidate of Ubuntu 9.10 and it seems to be working without a hitch too. Earlier builds of 9.10 broke in their VirtualBox VM so you should understand the level of concern that this aroused in my mind; the last thing that you want to be doing is reinstalling an operating system because its booting capability breaks every other day. Thankfully, the RC seems to have none of these rough edges so I can upgrade the Novatech box, still my main machine and likely to remain so for now, with peace of mind when the time comes.

Firefox 3, RealPlayer, Ubuntu and BBC’s iPlayer

With the record attempt due today for Firefox 3 downloads, I thought that it would be a good time for me to update my advice for getting BBC’s iPlayer going in Firefox running on Ubuntu. First, you need RealPlayer 11 for Linux. Once downloaded, the file RealPlayer11GOLD.bin needs to be made executable before running it with administrative privileges. The following command do this:

chmod +x RealPlayer11GOLD.bin

sudo ./RealPlayer11GOLD.bin

There is a catch though and it is that while the RealPlayer 11 installation is seamless for Firefox 2, the same cannot be said for Firefox 3 because directory locations have been changed such plugins are now found in /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins. The result that copies of or symbolic links to nphelix.xpt and nphelix.so are needed in that location. The following commands do the trick:

sudo ln -s /opt/real/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.xpt /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins/nphelix.xpt

sudo ln -s /opt/real/RealPlayer/mozilla/nphelix.so /usr/lib/firefox-addons/plugins/nphelix.so

To cap all of this, I have seen advice that libtotem-complex-plugin.so needs to be removed from the Firefox plugins directory as well. I am not sure about this but I did that and all is working well for me. Let’s hope that continues to be the case.

Succumbing to Temptation: Ubuntu Studio

The fancy artwork that comes with Ubuntu Studio does look appealing so I got lured into converting my vanilla Ubuntu 7.10 into something a bit more avant garde. The theme’s all very dark (you can have a peek here; file size is 1.1 MB) but it looks very smart, even if the merging of application title bar and top desktop panel due to their having the same colour and texture is a little disconcerting. My momentary lapse of discipline also got me adding a whole array of audio, graphics and movie applications that I may never use; it’s good to have them if I ever fancy a fiddle but removal is not off the agenda either. The other thing that came with the package was an alternate kernel that looks as if it might be of the real time variety, at least if the "rt" in its package name is to be believed. The main reason for mentioning that is that VMware has ceased working so I need to snag the correct kernel source code to get things going again. Let’s hope that it’s a successful venture…

Update: After a spot of poking, Synaptic offered up the required kernel header files and VMware was reinstated with only a modicum of effort. All’s well that ends well.