Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nothing nice to say about new Ubuntu

I take back everything nice I said about Ubuntu! I upgraded from 7.10 to 8.04.1 about a month ago and it's been one breakage after another. I thought I was being smart, waiting for the 8.04.1 "Service Pack" to come out before upgrading. Maybe a clean install would've worked fine but my upgrade has been so bad I'm seriously considering rolling-back to my 7.10 backup.

Since upgrading:
  • The Alternate CD updater rewrote my repository and update lists, then crashed without any message, leaving my system in an unstable state. After hours of experimenting I finally managed to get the update restarted and through to completion.
  • After the update none of my drives were accessible?! Apparently the new version uses a new naming scheme for drives but the update failed to update my 'fstab' configuration file. Fortunately I had another computer handy and was able to track down the required changes.
  • The Ubuntu-supported Nvidia video driver no longer works so I've had to switch to the official Nvidia driver. I'd previously learned (the hard way) that you can't trust this driver to work through a kernel upgrade. And, in just the past month, I've already had to uninstall it temporarily, apply a new kernel update, then reinstall it. PITA...
  • I had previously installed the now-included User Switcher. Needless to say, the update broke it, so my wife has to use a workaround. I was able to fix it once but now I can't remember how I did it; my latest attempts have failed.
  • I had previously installed the latest version of HPLIP (Hewlett-Packard Linux Printing). Ubuntu tried to install an older version alongside it, causing neither to work. I eventually uninstalled both, then reinstalled the newer version.
  • I spent DAYS trying to find a way to rip my CDs to MP3. WTF? The built-in 'Sound Juicer' used to work but refused to let me select MP3 anymore. I eventually tracked-down the needed change but... even though MP3 was selected it still did OGG format instead. WTF WTF?! Eventually, I settled for an old program, 'Grip', which does the basic task but fails to record any ID3 info.
  • Amidst all the printer mayhem, the VirtualBox printer support is malfunctioning again. I can get it to print but then I have to reboot the machine in order to get HPLIP working again.
  • My installed version of Crossover 6.1, which admittedly is not current anymore, stopped working. Fortunately the Ubuntu forums quickly yielded the solution: There was a new security lock-out in Ubuntu 8.04 which had to be partially disabled in order to allow Crossover to work.
  • Finally, my DVD drive no longer reads DVD data discs. I think my initial problem was an old flaky drive but even the new drive is having problems. I've managed to find a multi-step manual procedure to get discs to load, but it should all be automatic! In fact, as a test, I booted from a flash drive with generic 8.04.1 and the drive seemed to work fine. So something in my configuration is causing the problem.
Unfortunately, for now, I think I'm just going to give-up on making things work any better. And I'm certainly going to stop recommending Ubuntu to people.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What's the deal with poor TV concert-sound?

Something unusual happened last night, something significantly rare that I felt compelled to mention it. I was watching the 4th of July celebrations on PBS and the concert sound-mix was excellent?! I've grown inured (though still not happy) to the fact that almost all live music on TV has a shitty mix. I'm pretty sure it's because they want to make sure it still sounds decent even on a cheap TV with cheap speakers. They do something similar with studio recordings where they double-check that it still sounds good on a set of cheap car speakers. But I don't think they 'dumb down' the mix the way they do on TV, i.e., entire instruments will simply be missing.

Even the DVDs of concerts will exhibit this. If the band wasn't sufficiently mike'd then they might be stuck making the best of a bad collection of line recordings. But for a concert that's being recorded for resale you'd think they'd have avoided this predictable issue.

Here are 2 recent examples of this dumbing-down:
  • The Steve Miller Band - Live in Someplace (sorry, I forget). It's a recent recording and a great performance, but several times I saw someone playing a guitar rhythm or some kind of percussion and it simply was not there in the mix.
  • Tift Merrit - Live at Austin City Limits. You rarely hear Tift's rhythm guitar, or even her piano backing. In this instance I suspect they only had 1 line for both the piano and organ, not realizing that she and the organist sometimes play at the same time. And since the organ is much louder than the piano (see my review of her San Diego performance two months ago) they probably had to drop the level to keep it from drowning the mix; sorry piano! And I was particularly excited about this DVD because it included a DTS soundtrack (which is higher-quality than Dolby Digital) so I assumed it would have a higher-quality mix, too.
Lastly, the other disappointing thing is that I'm still hearing these dumbed-down mixes on digital surround-sound broadcasts on HDTV. I suppose someone with an HDTV might still have cheap speakers but isn't the likelihood a lot higher than the viewer will have a proper sound system (like me) ?