AMD A-Series Llano APUs out now

This weekend AMD's Llano APUs started shipping this week and Newegg has started offering select models! While I won't be picking one up myself (sorry, I still like my discrete Radeon HD 3850 and will most probably continue to buy discrete PCIe cards), the release of this product makes me really happy because it's been too long that PC manufacturers have been skimping on graphics to lower the cost of PCs and it's really the consumer that pays the price in the end. Yes, true, you can argue "well they should have read the specs" but let's face it, your average consumer has no idea what the difference between the Intel GMA X3150, GeForce 310M or a Radeon HD 6670M is even though choosing one or the other will dramatically affect how they perceive their computer's performance. It is all too common that I see OEMs advertise their beefy and overpriced PCs as fast and all-capable and then when you look at the specs it's got something terribly outdated and underpowered like an Intel GMA X4500 or nVidia GeForce 7100 graphics processor. Seriously, why even bother with the powerful CPU if it can't handle any sort of graphics properly?

The situation is even worse for laptops... In the past few months I've found that it is nearly impossible to find a laptop that has a nice balance between CPU and GPU power for the average consumer. OEMs seem to have their computers fall into one of three builds, and those builds are (a) low-power computing with cheap CPUs and integrated graphics (b) high performance computing with i5s/i7s and an overkill on RAM or (c) gaming computers that weigh lots, have a short battery life and are very expensive. In my opinion they are completely missing the mark on what the "average consumer" actually needs, which is a mediocre CPU with a entry level discrete graphics card and a healthy amount of RAM (3 or 4GB is acceptable) in the $600-700 range. You can think of it as targeting "basic gaming" or "media PC". Samsung has been very good at this actually, offering laptops the higher-end Core 2 Duo CPUs or i3s with the low-class nVidia GeForce 310M/320M series GPUs (some even in the $550-range). Computers like that are well priced, perfect for web & office work but won't choke if you throw 1080p at it, and you could even play Starcraft 2 or WoW on low settings.

Anyways, all that goes to say that this integrated graphics madness should now come to an end. I can't wait until the OEMs start using the AMD chips in desktop in laptops, as it will provide the consumer with a cost-effective computer that can actually process a decent graphic payload - and that's worth a lot. Not to mention that the battery life should improve considerably, too.

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Avicii - Levels

I can't seem to find this on Beatport or iTunes to buy :(

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My thoughts on Java (part 2)

Sometimes, I feel like people give Java a bad rap. It's a language that's in demand out on the field and after using it for my school classes, I have found that it is easy to program in, it performs very well and your code is portable/cross-platform. Sounds great, right? At first glance Java magically turns everything that's hard to do into something easy.

But then I'll use Java-based software and somehow it manages to consistently be extremely complex to setup/configure (ie, tomcat+webapps), to have horrible looking UIs (ie, LimeWire, FreeNode, OpenOffice) and often it consumes lots of resources needlessly (ie, OpenOffice, LimeWire). I mean seriously, you can get a PHP or Python-enabled webserver up and running in under 2 commands on RHEL and then you just need to create a single script file to start serving pages. The Java community really needs to spend some time working on developer/user experience in my opinion.

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Desktop cleaning

I've always cared a lot about user experience because I find that no matter how great a single piece or a collection of software is, it is the user experience that shapes your impression of that software. That said, I was cleaning up my (very, very messy) desktop and came across an old backup of a Fedora installation. There was a file on my desktop from July 2008 that I had completely forgotten about... I had collected my thoughts at the time on how Linux-based distributions could be improved to make the user experience better. It's really neat to see how many of these have been implemented in only 3 short years:

my apologies for the messy read, I tend to write my notes in Wiki format and I don't feel like copy/pasteing <li>'s all over the place ;)

* The Linux installation+boot process
  * Installers must try to recognize an existing Linux installation's boot
    configuration and add theirs to it, not overwrite the previous one.
  * Be able to partition (read: resize) other filesystems intelligently and
    efficiently.
  * Provide installation profiles. Stop fighting over what packages or
    configurations to use and realize that a server, an enterprise and the
    typical user all have different sets of expectations and needs.
  * GRUB should have an extendable plug-in system where distributions could
    plug-in modules to have it suggest which partitions to boot from (ie
    distribution auto-find)
  * Graphical bootup: X in initramfs. Ubuntu does this already, it's an excellent
    idea and gives the user a better overall experience.
   
* Standardizing the Desktop
  * User accounts
    * Unix names are confusing to users. Have the system map metanames to Unix
      names so that people can login with e.g. "firewing" or "Stewart Adam"
    * Allow the administrator to create user groups and define their privileges.
      User accounts belong to one or more groups which defines what they can do.
      * User control is easy and at the same time they can be given needed
        privileges (software updates, mounting drives, etc) without having to
        know the root password.
  * Unified package management. Create a standard for both package managers and
    packaging. This enables large, cross-distro compatible repositories that
    benefit the users.

* User experience
  * Prompt the user for backups once a week. Include a don't show me again
    option.
  * Why can't we configure tapping on a per-user basis again? Right, xorg.conf.
   
* Developers
  * Need to accept and handle user feedback. Although Linux is used by a lot of
    developers, most of the users are non-developers users. It would make
    sense to prioritize what they have to say.

* Kernel
  * If a device is present but isn't supported, provide a signal so that the
    desktop environment can present a dialog explaining the problem and showing
    the user what they can do to help.
    * More specifically, reporting the device IDs and collecting common log
      files.
  * Create "FooKits" for helping monitor and solve common problems. Power usage,
    kernel oopses, SELinux, etc.
  * Reload parts of the kernel without rebooting (just improve kmem)

* Documentation
  * Don't leave users out in the cold. They shouldn't have to do a day of
    research to get the OS installed or to perform simple tasks. Provide
    tooltips and help buttons inside programs.
  * Dumbing down doesn't solve much. The best type of documentation is easy
    to understand but contains technical information at the same time.
   
* Other
  * Interfaces need to be somewhat standardized and resemble each other in
    nature. They overall goal is that programs should be intuitive -
    Documentation should accompany a program, but the interface should be
    intuitive enough that users shouldn't have to read it to get started.
  * Something nice for the help menu layout:
    - Documentation
    - Check for Updates (this would use the standardized package manager)
    - Report a bug
    - Help translate this program
    - About this program
  * Synchronize user information (ie, UID/GIDs) between various distributions.
  * There needs to be an easy communication channel between developers/
    packagers and users so that they are encouraged to help out. Testing and
    providing feedback and bug reporting and bug sorting/solving is not hard but
    goes a long way in helping the developers troubleshoot problems.

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First part of CentOS 5 server setup howto series now available

After much research, experimentation, testing and tweaking I'm happy to announce that I have completed the first part of my CentOS 5 server setup howto series!

As of today, you'll notice a new CentOS 5 Howtos link on the where I have listed the first two parts of the howto series, the getting started howto which will help you setup a basic system environment and more importantly, the mail server howto which documents how to setup a secure mail server offering POP3/IMAP/SMTP with virtual users stored in a MySQL database.

I'm very happy with this setup because it uses virtual users that cam be mapped to system users and also keeps the software set relatively small; Dovecot is used for SASL authentication (both for POP3/IMAP and SMTP) and for postfix's local delivery agent, so with only 2 servers we've got it all covered (of course technically it's 3 servers with an extra transport if you take amavisd and response-lmtpd into account).

The virtual user database is currently only used in this tutorial for the mail server, but I have plans to introduce (with an upgrade path) a new database structure that will unify several authentication data pools and make managing clients for a shared hosting server easier... But I'll talk more about that later once I've finished posting my other guides. I plan on adding ones for other services such as DNS & Web, although I cannot promise when those will be finished. The mail server tutorial alone is 16 printed pages (!) so it does take me quite some time to ensure that the tutorial is well documented and that the configurations listed work properly.

I still have to add some notes here and there about the implementation, but the core material is there. Enjoy!

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