Exploring Psychology

The course material for DSE 212 just arrived. Once I’d got over the weight of the package, I opened it to discover that it consists of a number of large text books, a couple of DVD, CDs, software and the usual assorted paraphernalia – part threes, course updates and errata. Looking over the course material, it seems well structured and nicely presented. The study calendar would suggest that this is going to be intensive, with the first TMA due on the 11th November.

If you’re still reading – you might wonder what this has to do with Ubuntu. Well it comes down to the course software – a large part of the course is centred around the data mining software SPSS. Now of course you might well suggest free alternatives such as R or PSPP, indeed PSPP is intended as a replacement and is very similar. It’s not the same however and the big difference is that the course material is geared to step by step work in SPSS version 14.

The version is important, from what I can ascertain – SPSS version 17 is available for Linux. IBM has acquired the company so this may well continue. That said, version 14 is what has been supplied. This is not uncommon with the OU – MST121 for example uses Mathcad 2000.

Now, how about running in Wine you might say – the software has a little license validation applet that doesn’t seem to agree with Wine but I might be doing it wrong. However, for many studying is already expensive – why should it also involve complicating installation?

It has been suggested the Open University is not at all open to open source software. I don’t know if this is a policy or not but I do know that the Windows based software they supply is outdated. I can understand that this is probably for the same reason that Linux is not supported – that it would mean making substantial changes to the course material.

Course tutors I have spoken to have been extremely favourable to the idea of packaging software for Ubuntu and distributing it with course material. There are issues here, licensing and maintaining spring to mind – no to mention support. There is no way the OU Computing Helpdesk are going to support Ubuntu so that leaves the community.

Where does one draw the line between the desire to use open source software and the ease of using a provided solution? Am I putting myself at a disadvantage to my peers? Although I am confident with statistics, I’m effectively learning two systems as the course teaches one and I apply it to another system. Even if this entails five minutes an assessment, it’s five minutes that Windows users are excused. Moreover I’ve paid for it through course fees, can I get that refunded?

What surprises me is that the OU is about accessibility – anyone can study with them, except it would seem those who choose not to use Windows. Shouldn’t the Open University be Open?

Huawei E1550 on Ubuntu

Update: I’ve rewritten this article for 10.04.1, please post comments there and not here!

Update: You no longer need to install udev-extras in Ubuntu 10.04.

I picked up a Huawei E1550 pre-pay mobile broadband dongle, £39.99 with 3 Mobile including 3Gb usage (note it’s not the device they’re picturing).

I’m on a course next month so that’ll do fine, I have no reception at home and am not away enough to warrant a contract.

It appears to identify itself as USB storage, to install drivers on Windows then flip-flops to a modem.  Nice idea, terrible implementation, even in Windows where it installs drivers every time you use a different USB port (it’s often wise to try such devices in Windows – so you don’t chase your tail with a faulty device).  Pretty sure it’s the autorun program that’s flipping the device.

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Watch TV with VLC and a Freecom DVB-T Stick

One of the things I need my Aspire One to do is watch TV.  When you’re away, it’s nice to be able to watch a little TV.  I bought a Freecom DVB-T USB stick years ago and have always had success under Linux.  It’s small, sensitive and selective.

I was surprised, especially on Ubuntu, how easy it was to setup.

My netbook runs Arch, so I installed it on that and my Dell 1545 running Ubuntu 9.04.
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Replacing Firefox

I am a heavy web user.  Everything from webmail to banking, if I can do it on-line I will.

So when I’m away from home (which is common) I like to have connectivity.  With WiFi access and mobile broadband what to connect to is straightforward.  As I like to travel light, I prefer to use a netbook and as they are typically lower specification, you quickly become aware of software bloat.

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Replacing Linpus Linux Lite on the Acer Aspire One

I love my Aspire One but have come to be less impressed by the Linpus distro installed. So at the weekend I decided to try Arch Linux, which as a long time Slackware fan I had heard worked well and had good documentation.

Its all up and running and other than two quirks, the guide on Arch Wiki is spot on.

As I said, I came across two quirks – the install image used kernel 2.6.26, which detects the r8196 module for the network but for some reason will not answer a dhcp request after reboot (only after reboot) – so replace it with 2.26.27 before reboot. You’ll need to anyway because the Atheros wireless chipset in the Aspire One is supported OOB on the more recent kernel.

The second is well documented, that ext2 partitions on SD are corrupted on suspend. I opted for an XFS partition though and have not had any issues.

The only things I haven’t got working are suspend to RAM and the WiFi light (although the switch works). Neither of these is a show-stopper because I’ve got boot time down to under 18 seconds which is only a few seconds more than resume from RAM.

I’d also advise binning dhcpd and using wicd – which integrates well with XFCE and being a daemon means WiFi is up before you’ve got a desktop.

Really impressed with Arch, a distro I haven’t used before. It’s from the minimalist camp and allows a tailored installation with little or no cruft. Its documentation is fantastic (I have seen a few ideas that I intend to implement in Ubuntu!).