Amarok works with NPR steam now!

NPR All Music Considered works correctly now
NPR All Music Considered works correctly now

It’s not a surprise that I love Amarok. Take a look at the related posts below. I think nothing beats it as a music program. If the KDE4 for Windows libraries were more robust I’d recommend it for everyone. As is, I think it’s the best on Linux. But, until the most recent updates there was something lacking that really bothered me. On a stream like NPR’s All Music Considered it wouldn’t update the Now Playing track to the song that was on. And that made it really hard to use that stream in the best possible way – to discover new music! It’s fixed now and that’s awesome! Woohoo!

last.fm listening habits Q4 2012

Throughout the month of October I alternated between listening to newly acquired music (of which I had quite a bit) and a dynamic playlist that was weighted so that most of the music had auto-ratings above 90, less music above 75, and even less above 50. Any song that I listened to only once would fit in the third category. After that, if I skipped it just once it would fall out of the group. So it gave me a nice mix of music including forgotten favorites. Now that I’ve listened to a good chunk of my library since the last time the Amarok database was corrupted I may modify the playlist to include the caveat that it couldn’t have been played in the last x days. I’m not sure if I want to make the date large enough that I only hear songs once per quarter or my standard two week waiting period. Given how little time I have to listen to music nowadays I might go for the 90 days. I also spent some chunks of time listening to my music on random on Google Music. That’s completely random so I end up hearing some songs I didn’t even remember ever acquiring. A lot of my new music came from Jamendo when I got an email with the month’s most popular songs and I decided to do a search for ska. Although I really enjoy ska, I got into it rather late so I don’t have very much ska music. (Mostly just Five Iron Frenzy, Save Ferris, No Doubt, and the Orange County Supertones – who are an OK ska band – I mostly like their least ska songs)

In November I started off with the same playlist as in October. I tried to switch to a “haven’t played in three months” playlist, but a lot of my music had an undefined last played date because of the last time the database was corrupted. Convinced that the Amarok guys had finally fixed things, I decided I’d go through my entire music collection again. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to all the songs, but I’d play all the songs. This would have the added bonus of giving all the songs scores as I either listened or skipped. A few songs now have a score of 5 rather than 0, which is good since it signifies I skipped it on the first listen. This should help make my dynamic playlists more accurate. When I loaded in the “Various Artists” artist into my playlist I ended up with 4 days and 10.5 hours of music. Given the holidays coming up which may mean that I don’t spend as much time playing my music off of my computer, this playlist could last me through the end of the year. I guess we’ll see. Plus I’ll be wanting to throw some Christmas music in there. I’ve already discovered some songs that had bad tags – including some of them that just didn’t have an Album Artist (which I think is a RELATIVELY new tag because I don’t remember it from the old days) and that automatically puts them in “Various Artists”. Overall, it’s great to have a nice, semi-random mix. And, although it somewhat defeats the purpose of background music, it’s nice to continue my quest (started nearly a decade ago) of having properly tagged music. That’s the shame of having acquired so much music back in the early mp3 days. Even the legitimate music (like that on mp3.com) was often badly tagged or not tagged at all. Frankly, any music that doesn’t come from a store is often badly tagged. I often have to spend a few minutes on the music I get from RollingStone.com to fix up the tags. Let me make yet another plug for them – Rollingstone.com gives away about one mp3 per day every weekday and a lot of that music is REALLY good. (Although sometimes it’s just not my style)

In December continued to listen to the Various Artists. Finished that up on 20 Dec 2012. Went to the Music I Love playlist for the rest of 2012. That’s a rating of five or a score of greater than 90.

Dynamic Playlist (for blog)

So that resulted in…..

1. MC Frontalot (97 listens) – This semi-surprise as the #1 listen in Q4 comes mostly from a couple days I spent in the basement working on computers. I only had his Greatest Hits album on the computer there so it got a lot of listens. In general The Front (as he’s known) is like Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, or Tom Lehrer. The songs make you laugh and sometimes make you think, but you can’t listen to too many of them in a row without wanting to take a break.

2. Five Iron Frenzy (75 listens) – The majority of these listens come from me finally getting their final CD (well, until their new kickstarter-backed CD comes out) for my birthday. I’d copied it off Dan a long time ago, but lost the songs when moving my music from one computer to another. Since I love FIF I decided I wouldn’t reacquire the songs unless I was buying them. It’s a massive album with two discs worth of music (that distinction won’t mean much in anotehr few years) – both their last studio album and a recording of their last concert. A great album – I hope the new one is like this one.

3. DJ CUTMAN (67 listens) – As I’ll mention in my 2012 post, this year was a big one for discovering new music. Somehow I ended up on DJ CUTMAN’s mailing list. He puts together some great video game-based albums.

4. Relient K (57 listens) – Once again, a great band I really enjoy. I’m hoping their next album is a bit of a return to the more rocking music of the earlier albums.

5. Danny Elfman (46 listens) – I listened to a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas during this quarter because of the two holidays that fall in there.

6. The Beatles (43 listens) – Yeah, they’re always on here, but I think this is the lowest they’ve ever been.

7. Frank Ocean (42 listens) – Got his album “Channel Orange” based on all the hype and a listen of “Super Rich Kids”. The internet did not lead me astray. I love this album – it’s one of the best and tightest album experiences. For someone who thought of R&B as sex music or club music (depending on the cadence), it was pretty exciting to discover Frank Ocean’s biting satire. I love me some satire (see aforementioned MC Frontalot), but I love it most when it’s played straight as Frank Ocean does in this album. It’s a shame my wife hates R&B or I’d be listening to this even more often. Special mentions go out to “Thinking about You” – a great carrying the flame song with some great sarcastic lines, “Sweet Life” – which is almost a companion piece to “Super Rich Kids”, and “Bad Religion” which is almost surely the best song, lyrically.

8. Anberlin (38 listens) – I got their latest album, “Vital”. While I miss the carefree lyrics of the first few albums, I think Anberlin has really grown a lot musically. I think this is my favorite album in a while. The drums on “Self-Starter” are a great way to amp yourself up for the work day. If you ever loved Anberlin you need to check this album out.

9. I Fight Dragons (37 listens) – Got their latest album for my birthday. The band continues to evolve in a good way. There are a couple songs on here that were also on the EPs. “With You” really makes me wish that Kina Grannis had stayed with the band. I think her voice really works so well in duets. Hopefully they could collaborate with her on the future album. Unless my memory is failing me, “Don’t You” is also from one of the EPs. Great songs, both of them. It’s funny, when I heard the first few singles they released – “Save World Get Girl” made me want to buy the CD, but “Kaboom!” made me want to wait. But there are a lot of great songs on here. “The Geeks will Inherit the Earth” is a great anthem about how the world now favors the information workers over the brawny dudes of the past. “Working” is a great track about the transition into adulthood and the droll of the workplace. It really captures how I felt 7 years ago when I thought I’d finally made it only to become a cubicle farm drone. (With time I’ve found a fulfilling job/position and actually look forward to coming in to work) Where they really shine in unexpected ways are in the softer songs “Before I Wake” and “Disaster Hearts”. These songs together with the aforementioned “With You” really showcase the lyrical depth you wouldn’t expect from a pop/rock band with video games providing some of the instrumentation. I really hope on the next CD they can continue to balance the power songs with the softer songs. While radio play is slowly meaning less and less vs YouTube views and Pandora/Spotify plays, I do hope I Fight Dragons is able to get their dues and appear on the radio. I think they have quite a few songs that would really resonate with a large audience, not just those of us internet junkies with a fondness for Nintendo sound effects.

10. Elvis Presley (35 listens) – Um, it’s The King. Got an album of his #1s.

11. “Weird Al” Yankovic (32 listens) – Once again I’m left asking myself if I really did listen to this much Weird Al.

12. Cee Lo Green (28 listens) – Got his Christmas album. It’s a good change of pace and I’m glad I broke my “no more Christmas albums” ban for this one.

13. Garfunkel and Oates (26 listens) – I added some albums by this duo onto my wishlist because the brunette had been on Scrubs. I also liked the craziness of the song titles – it reminded me of the irreverence of the song titles. It reminded me of Tom Lehrer and the fun of listening to the dirty jokes on my dad’s Alvarez Guedes albums (which he played for us to my mother’s chagrin). This group is extremely vulgar – dirty lyrics and lots of bad words including F-bombs. Even I, who am fine watching Quentin Tarantino movies sometimes find myself skipping a song because it’s just way too much for me. If you can get past that, there’s some great social satire here. Special mention goes to “Sex with Ducks” which is making fun of a speech that said if we allow gay marriage it will lead to sex with ducks. Look, I know I’m not the best Christian by conventional, American standards. I listen to music with profanity, I have no problem seeing Django Unchained, etc. However, I just feel ridiculous to call myself a believer in Christ when I hear the stuff that comes out of the vocal minority (I hope it’s a minority). So I love this song and enjoy whenever it comes up.

14. Anamanaguchi (25 listens) – I’ve spoken a lot about them. I put them on a loop earlier in the quarter while I worked on my final paper for my master’s class. The lack of lyrics is perfect for letting my left brain work while my right brain gets to relax.

14. Ken Gao (25 listens) – Ken’s on here for the incredible job he did with the “To the Moon” video game soundtrack. More about that video game in a future post. It’s not quite as awesome as the Bastion soundtrack, but that’s because it was meant to be evocative of SNES and Genesis-era RPG music. So the tracks are short and repetitive, but the main song that’s a huge plot point early on is so great!

Amarok Rating Stats

Recently I was looking at this old post and the screenshots of Amarok 1.4 reminded me of something I loved about that version of Amarok – the stats that would display when you were playing a song – like if you were playing a Five Iron Frenzy song it would tell you your three favorite (or most played) Five Iron Frenzy songs.  That functionality never made it back into the Amarok 2 series.  So when I was looking through the Amarok scripts in the script installer I came across Rating Statistics.  It basically gave me everything I wanted other than being linked to the currently playing song.  It allows you to search your favorite songs based on all kinds of criteria like number of plays, user-assigned rating, or auto-score.  You can also assign some weights to it and get your best songs based on that weighting.  Here are the stats about my library:

Amarok Stats
Amarok Stats

You can see I’ve barely rated any of my songs.  I just rate some when they really catch my fancy.  Otherwise I let Amarok do it automatically.  Given the length of the average pop and rock song I’m not surprised that the average song length is 3min 38s.  Here’s how I weighted my scores:

Amarok Stats Weights
Amarok Stats Weights

I weighted playcount most heavily since I figured if I like a song  a lot I’ll play it a lot.  Then I gave the auto-generated score the second most weight because it’s correlated to the playcount.  My assigned rating has less weight because I may have once really liked a song, but now don’t care for it as much.  And the length gives some weight because longer songs might be listened to less.  Here are my top scoring songs based on that weight:

Amarok Stats - Top Scoring Songs
Amarok Stats – Top Scoring Songs

No surprises there.  All songs that I really love.  Taking a look at artists with the same criteria:

Amarok Stats - Top Scoring Artists
Amarok Stats – Top Scoring Artists

There shouldn’t really be any surprises in there for anyone that follows my last.fm posts.  Next up is top albums:

Amarok Stats - Top Scoring Albums
Amarok Stats – Top Scoring Albums

The biggest surprise here is the Pizzicato Five albums because I don’t really listen to it very much anymore and I thought most of my listens were with Rhythmbox anyway.  Next I just wanted to take a look at how the list changes when looking at the play count rather than the weighted score.  Here are the top tracks:

Amarok Stats - Top Songs by Play count
Amarok Stats – Top Songs by Play count

I was a little surprised by those playcount numbers.  Here are the artist play counts:

Amarok Stats - Top Artists by Play Count
Amarok Stats – Top Artists by Play Count

I’m a little surprised at how high Switchfoot is.  Finally albums.  In a sense this is one of the most “cheatingest” stats because Mario The Music can easily win having 78 tracks (some of which are just 30 seconds long).

Amarok Stats - Top Albums by Play Count
Amarok Stats – Top Albums by Play Count

And to finish off this post, since I know Dan is one of the primary readers – stats on two artists he and I would share in common:

Amarok Stats - Five Iron Frenzy
Amarok Stats – Five Iron Frenzy

 

Amarok Stats - Anamanaguchi
Amarok Stats – Anamanaguchi

 

Testing out Amarok 2.4.3’s Dynamic Playlists

The Amarok Dynamic Playlist DJ Monster
The Amarok Dynamic Playlist DJ Monster is responsible for building your dynamic playlist

I’ve spoken about Amarok’s Dynamic Playlists before.  Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t quite get it to work correctly.  However, Amarok 2.4.3 has revamped the dynamic playlists engine and interface, so I wanted to check it out and see if it worked better as well as testing out some of the new features.  For one thing, they changed the interface to more closely match the interface for static playlists.  See:

 

Amarok 2.4.3 - new dynamic interface
Amarok 2.4.3 - new dynamic interface

 

And while I like the fact that it better matches with the other way of making auto-playlists, it also is much clearer what you’re constructing (even die-hard Amarok fans couldn’t accurately describe what would happen with the old method), and you can create more complex lists with ands/ors, it doesn’t quite invite as much play and experimentation as the old implementation with the sliders.  So I decided to start off with a newer dynamic playlist (although it may have existed before 2.4.3) called Quiz mode.  That name is a bit misleading, but once you understand where it comes from, it makes sense.  Remember that quiz (my family used to play it on road trips) where you select a subject (say states or countries) and the first person names a country and the second person has to think of a country that starts with the last letter of the first country?  For example: Germany -> Yugoslavia.  So Amarok can do that with artist name, track name, and album name.  I created one for track name.

 

My Quiz Playlist Parameters
My Quiz Playlist Parameters

 

And here’s the playlist it produced:

 

Quiz Playlist
Quiz Playlist

So, in practice it’s just another random listen mode, only it’s not random, it’s procedural.  I’m sure you could probably have some fun seeding it with a track and then seeing how many times that diverges to another playlist.  Interestingly (and a good thing, I think) it ignores parenthesis.  See:

 

Amarok - Quiz Dynamic Playlist ignores parenthesis
Amarok - Quiz Dynamic Playlist ignores parenthesis

 

Afterwards I tried the last.fm similar artists.  Either I have too much obscure music or that engine needs more work.  Here’s what I got over two tries:

 

Amarok - last.fm similar artists?
Amarok - last.fm similar artists? They don't seem that similar to me

 

Amarok - similar artists - 2
Again, not that similar

 

ACTUALLY!  It turns out that I still had the other dynamic playlist active.  You need to double-click on the one you want active.  It’ll look like this:

 

Amarok 2.4.3 - NOW similar artists is active
Amarok 2.4.3 - NOW similar artists is active

 

I started of with Louis Jordan.  I clicked repopulate and nothing happened.  So I waited for the song to end.  Nothing.  Maybe I need a more prominent artist?  I try Bjork.  It still doesn’t work.  Weird.  Ah, I see.  The “similar artists” that Amarok finds (when I go to the similar artists widget) are all artists I don’t have.  I’ll try DC Talk next.  OK, I definitely have artists that match last.fm’s similar artist.  I hit repopulate.  Nothing.  I must really be misunderstanding how this works.  I’ll try switch from artist to track in the playlist.

 

Ok, so now it was it time to see if I could recreate the playlist I originally wanted back them.  Unplayed songs with a rating of 0.  Looks like that worked correctly.  That would allow me to listen to all of my music without repeating.  If I skip a song, it still has zero plays, but it will now have a score, that’s the reason for the second, seemingly redundant, parameter.  Just a few songs in, there’s already a song with 3 plays and score of 91.  I’m not quite sure why that’s occurred.  Here’s what my dynamic playlist looks like:

 

Amarok doesn't listen to this
Amarok doesn't listen to this

 

And the next song has 4 plays and 93 score.  Hopefully someone in the comments can tell me what’s going on here.  Other than that, I’m pretty happy with the new dynamic playlist and Amarok seems, on the whole to be less crashy.  (As well as no longer causing plasma to crash, although I’m not 100% sure about that)

KDE Look Part 6: 4 Months In

I started using KDE in November of last year so I figured that I’d give an update on how things are working for me four months in.  First off, KDE 4.6.x has not yet hit the official Fedora repositories.  Since I like to yum upgrade or preupgrade from release to release, I try to stay with the official repos and RPMFusion.  So no KDE 4.6 for me.  At this rate, it doesn’t seem that it’s going to make it until around Fedora 15.  But, if that means they iron out any extra bugs, that’s fine with me.  So, with that said, let’s get to the info.

OVERALL, KDE 4.5 is nice and stable.  It’s not as buggy as the 3.5 series was (at least on Fedora).  That said, it has been a teensy bit buggier on the whole than Gnome.  It’s usually not too bad – it certainly hasn’t put me off KDE.  Since Amarok is separate from the KDE Software Compilation, we were updated to Amarok 2.4 in Fedora 14.  Now, I don’t know for sure that it’s linked, but it seems to have caused an issue with Plasma and the KDE 4 notification area.  Basically I’ll see some error in the notification about Amarok and it’s sql-lite database.  Then I’ll start getting a bunch of empty notifications.  They just have a picture of the KDE 4 cashew.  And when this is happening KDE becomes very slow to switch between desktops.  This doesn’t, to my knowledge, happen if I’m not running Amarok and it settles itself a while after I quit Amarok.  Again, I’m not sure if it’s coincidental because it doesn’t happen all the time if Amarok is running.  I’m just calling it like I see it.  That is a bit annoying for me because I like having things distributed across a bunch of virtual desktops and I almost always have Amarok playing music.  Amarok itself hasn’t been very crashy.  It has crashed once or twice when I’ve tried to switch tracks a few times.  But it hasn’t lost the data it had collected since I’d last run it, so it wasn’t too bad.  I still enjoy using it as my everyday music player.

Choqok has been the crashiest of all my KDE apps.  I’m not sure what happened, but ever since going from .9 to 1.0 it’s become a lot more unstable.  It’ll die as soon as I start it up.  And I know there are tons of other people reporting this bug to bugzilla. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s probably the content of someone’s tweet or dent that’s crashing it.  I say this because I’ll restart it after a crash over and over again and it’ll keep crashing, but a few hours later it’ll work.  Perhaps the offending tweet or dent has fallen off the edge.  I’m not sure.  This is really the only KDE program that has really annoyed me.

Kontact was annoyingly crashing a lot when I was in the feed reader and then losing track of all the feeds I’d read since last startup.  But then it got updated to 4.4 and it became a LOT more stable.  It’s been great using it for all its components.  It is so much more stable than it used to be in the late 3.5/early 4.x days.  The only thing that sucks is that in a move that somehow made it more stable, they had to get rid of the special dates section from the bottom of the summary page.  I was using that to remember all sorts of family and friend birthdays that I just can’t memorize.  I hope it comes back in the update for KDEPIM that got kept out of 4.6.1 because it was too buggy.

I stopped using Compiz back when I was using Gnome.  It was just too buggy and it didn’t give me much benefit once I got over windows having inertia.  There’s a vocal group on the nets that complain about Gnome 3 not having Compiz, about Compiz not working well with KDE and so on.  Xfce, if I remember correctly, was the first majer DE to incorporate a native compositor.  I think that was the right way to go.  It helps things to be more tightly coupled.  I love KDE’s compositor.  It’s nice and subtle – I set it to have a fade in/out between virtual desktops.  I use some transparancy effects on my Konversation window so I can see the background image behind it.  And that’s perfect.

Now that I can have different plasmoids per vitual desktop, I’ve really started to make use of them. You can see an example here.  I’ve changed it a little bit recently now that I have two widescreen monitors instead of a square and a widescreen one.  A lot of people seem to be into system monitors, but I rarely need to know those things.  And if I do, a quick run of “top” will let me know what I need to know.  I don’t need bars and graphs for the sake of animating a desktop I rarely see.  I use the last.fm plasmoid as an easy way to verify that scrobbling is working.  It’s helped me diagnose issues and also be able to tell that scrobbles are happening without having to load up the browser and get to last.fm.  I love the “now playing” widget.  At least I think that’s what it’s called.  It integrates with Amarok perfectly.  Sure, I can go back and forth between tracks using Amarok’s systray icon, but that requires more clicks.  (Right-click then left-click)  Also, the systray icon doesn’t let me scrub to any point in the song or change the Amarok volume level.  It’s also quicker to see the track’s title and artist if it’s a song I’m unfamiliar with.  The weather widget is, of course, useful for knowing the weather without having to load up a website.  The character map widget is useful for my webcomic work so I can select non-ASCII text.  And the Google Translate widget is also used for my webcomic.  The folder view widgets are self-explanatory.

The other widgets I use are the KGet and KTorrent plasmoids.  KTorrent, its plasmoid, and KDE integration have gotten me off of Deluge.  (Still my top pick for a gtk system!)  The plasmoid is a great at-a-glance look at all the important info.  Not seen in the screenshot on the post I linked to before is the fact that it includes that graph you’ve seen in every torrent program that fills in the bits of the file it’s grabbed until it’s a solid bar.  Now, this doesn’t matter to me because I only torrent legal stuff like Linux distros, but it also tells you your share ratio.  I know in the past that some of those sites that peddle shadier content have ratio restrictions.  After all, since the activity is illegal in most developed countries (thanks to US trade bullying) they don’t want you grabbing the data without sharing some of the risk.  Otherwise, you’re being a jerk.  (Even I agree with that)  So requirements range from having a 1.0 ration (you’ve shared the entire file that you’ve downloaded) to 2.0 (you’ve shared it to two people – or the equivalent data transfer).  For me it’s a matter of pride when I’ve shared out a Linux distro to a 1.0 or greater ratio because I’ve helped take the load off of their download servers and saved them money.

KGet is a great download manager for KDE.  I’d like to see a little more work done on it.  It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, enable functionality equivalent to “Download them all!” which is the first program to make download managers relevant again now that we have broadband.  After all, the only point I ever saw in download managers was the ability to resume downloads so that you didn’t have to restart your download from scratch if the connection was dropped.  This is a good time to segueway into Chrome integration into KDE.  There isn’t any.  This means that the dialog box is GTK and needs double-clicks while KDE needs single-clicks.  And it doesn’t have the folders you’ve bookmarked in Dolphin.  Overall, that’s not a biggie.  But I haven’t figured out how to get it to use KGet for its downloading.  So the workaround has been to make it so that KGet watches the clipboard for URLs and then asks to download them.  This has only worked varying degrees of success.  Sometimes websites are setup so that you can’t see the actual path to the file you’re grabbing.  In those cases I can’t get KGet to grab the file.  Another problem, but I’m not sure what the culprit is, is when using the URL copy method to get files it stops responding for a while until a few files have downloaded and then keeps asking if I want to save.  That’s dumb.  I want to set everything to d/l and then go have dinner; not have to keep coming back every few minutes to hit save!  Now, I know I could use Konqueror, especially now that the webkit backend can be used.  But if I do that I end up losing the bookmark, settings, etc sync between all of my Chrome-running computers.  So I’m not sure what the solution is there.

Finally, I started using Yakuake. Yakuake is a terminal that drops from the top of the screen whenever you need it.  This has replaced my usage of Konsole in nearly every situation.  I also love that I can bring it up on any virtual desktop to check on the status of the command I ran.

So, in general, I’m still loving KDE.  I hate that I can’t use it at work.  It makes everything about using a computer a pleasure.  I love that I’ve been able to customize it to my specific needs and I look forward to doing that even more once KDE 4.6 lands in Fedora and I can make better use of Activities.  It makes me really feel that Gnome 3 and its rigidity is probably not for me.  I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do radical customization of my desktops.  But I do like to make it work for my unique situation.  I’m going to reserve final judgement until I get to use it.  Who knows, maybe it sucks me into its madness.  But somehow I doubt that will be the case.  I’m really loving KDE too much.

Spanish Language Support in Fedora 14 (KDE)

One awesome thing that is easy to notice in free/libre software is how international it is.  While proprietary software is mainly based out of the US – Windows/OSX – free/libre software comes from all over the place. Mandriva is based out of Brazil and France.  SUSE was originally developed in Germany.  Miguel de Icaza, one of the founders of Gnome, was born in Mexico.  Choqok, the best KDE-native microblogging software is created by an Iranian.  So something that Linux has always done better than Windows is support more languages. Microsoft has to pay to create language translations so they have to make a market analysis about which languages to support (and it still doesn’t cover non-Microsoft programs)  With Linux, it’s all volunteer work (or paid by companies that care about localization) and if the programs are written correctly for KDE and Gnome, they will all be able to take advantage of the translation work for their program.  “Save” should probably translate well across all well-written programs.  I think this is one of the reason why all the regions of Spain have their own Linux distros.  I don’t know this for a fact, but I would guess that Windows probably only comes out in Castillian (official or regular Spanish) and not in Catalan, Andalusian, Basque, etc 

Now, back in 2005 I ran Gnome in Spanish for about a month. I thought I’d give it a shot in KDE and see how well the desktop environment works in Spanish.  I realize I’m not the best person to evaluate this.  While I am of Cuban ancestry, I was born in the USA and my parents taught me English as a first language.  On top of that, nearly all the Spanish I know is conversational, not tech-based.  But, in a sense, that is perfect because it can help me to learn some more technical terms in Spanish.  Interestingly, I learned last that that “the net” like the Internet is translated to “el red” which is the Spanish word for a net like what goes across a Tennis court.

I’m using Fedora 14 which has been out for about three or so months and KDE 4.5.  I use GDM because I use the main Fedora install which is based on Gnome.  I set the Gnome language to Español (United States) and logged into KDE.  There were a bunch of weird inconsistencies.  My weather widget was correctly translated to Spanish.  (Although the forecast was in English – based on where it’s scraping from, I’m sure)  However, system messages were in English and Kontact was in English.  That didn’t make any sense.  Why did the widgets get the memo, but not Kontact?  Well, I loaded up KPackagekit and it turns out that, while I had the KOffice Spanish language pack installed, I didn’t have the KDE Spanish language pack installed.  (Note, I only typed spanish and there did not appear to be a package for that specific to Gnome)  So I installed it.  What follows is a series of screenshots of the programs I use every day in English and in Spanish.

 

Kontact in English
Kontact in English

 

Kontact in Spanish
Kontact in Spanish

 

Dolphin in English
Dolphin in English

 

Dolphin in Spanish
Dolphin in Spanish

 

Amarok in English
Amarok in English

 

Amarok in Spanish
Amarok in Spanish

 

Chrome in English
Chrome in English

 

Chrome in Spanish
Chrome in Spanish

 

Kopete in English
Kopete in English

 

 

 

Kopete in Spanish 2
Kopete in Spanish - kinda! I wonder why these statuses haven't been translated.

 

Desktop folder view in Spanish
Desktop folder view in Spanish

 

Weather Widget in Spanish
Weather Widget in Spanish

 

Choqok in English
Choqok in English

 

Choqok in Spanish
Choqok in Spanish did not remember which notices I'd already read

 

Choqok in Spanish 2
Choqok in Spanish: After a minute, it ceased to work correctly

 

Overall, it appears to be supported quite well.  The big exceptions are the statuses on Kopete and Choqok.  Choqok needs some real work when it comes to Spanish language support.  If it weren’t so broken I would have stayed in Spanish for a while.  There were a lot of terms that I had no idea were the right or proper term!  It’ll definitely be fun to use it to learn technical terms.  I just need to wait until Choqok is working.

Amarok and my Stats Fail

Amarok
Amarok

So, as I mentioned before, I wanted to try and make sure to get mostly unheard music on my random playlist so I could go through all my music.  So I put in a bias to make sure that there was an 80% that the next song picked was unplayed.  I started getting even more played music showing up than before!  I was baffled!  Then I realized it was my piss-poor understanding of statistics at fault.  Telling it that there should be an 80% of the music selected having never been played is equivalent to saying there should be a 20% change that the music selected should have been played before.  What the heck is going on?  So, if you look at my collection – when I moved to KDE 4, it lost the previous stats.  So all of my music was unplayed.  Let’s say I have 10,000 songs.  So when I tell it to randomly play music (with no bias), there’s, at first a 0/10,000 chance of a played song coming up.  After that, there’s a 1/10,000 chance of a previously played song showing up.  After a day, there’s a 26/10,000 chance of a played song coming up.  So because of randomness I could end up with previously played songs.  Stats only tell us what will happen in the long run.  In 10 flips of a coin you could get 10 heads.  But in infinite flips you should get half of them heads and half tails.  26/10,000 = 0.26% chance of a previously played song coming up.  So, when I set the bias so that theres a 20% of the songs that come up will have been played, I’m greatly increasing my changes of hearing a song again vs just leaving it on random!  At least for now.  Once I’d listened to most of my collection, it should flip.  There will be so many previously played songs that those will be random enough to satisfy me.  Right now not enough of them have been played relative to my collection’s size so the same ones keep coming up.

Unless I’ve gotten it all wrong again….

KDE 4 Look Part 3: A Week of KDE 4.5

So I’ve used KDE for about a work week.  During that time I’ve pretty much gone to using the KDE versions of all my programs except Konqueror.  I’m not sure if the Fedora 14 version of Konqueror is the one with Webkit, but last time I used Konqueror with KHTML it was mucking up a bunch of web pages including my blog.  So I stuck with Google Chrome, which is what i use on Gnome, LXDE (Lubuntu on my laptop), and on my Windows 7 install.  (Also, I stuck with gPodder for podcasts because that’s working perfectly)  So how did it go?  First of all, I love the stock screenshot tool in KDE, KSnapshot.  I love that lets me choose full screen, region, window under cursor, and section of Window.  With Gnome I hit print screen and then I have to edit the png in the GIMP.  So it gives me less work for my Linux-related blogging.
I mentioned it last time, but I’m really liking the integration of everything into the info icon so I can go back and see what’s happened – really liking it.  Here’s a sample of the types of notifications in here:
KDE 4.5 info
KDE 4.5 info
If you click on the “x” you can dismiss the message.  It’s also neat that you can click on the buttons on the bottom there and divide it up by the service that’s causing the notifications.  I really do love that a LOT more than the system as implemented in Gnome in Fedora 14.  (And all previous versions that have had the Ubuntu look-a-like notifications).

I’m still really loving Amarok.  So, to expound on what I wrote a few days ago, although I’m still really loving the dynamic playlist.  I’ve been hearing songs I haven’t heard in ages.  However, I think I have a better understanding of how the dynamic playlists work now.  I have it set to 10 songs at a time and one song came up twice.  That’s only happened once so far.  But, perhaps, once a song falls off the five songs I have on the back end it gets put back into the pile?  Statistically I should almost never come up with the same song again because I have so many, but I will on occasion come across a song again.  Am I right about the way it works?  What’s the reason not to tell it to compute the next 1000 songs or save the last 1000 songs?  I was also thinking, and this is nothing against Amarok – it would be the same with any of the music players, but when I have this awesome random playlist in which I’m trying to get through all my music, if I wanted to listen to a specific song, I’d have to lose the playlist.  At least that’s the way it feels.

So, I’ve been using Kontact for all the built-in programs.  As I mentioned before, I really like the summary page when it starts up.  I was ready to say that the Kmail component doesn’t properly thread my email while Evolution does.  Turns out that I had to go to View->Message List->Aggregation to fix that.  Looking through the sort menu (appears above aggregation) you can see the awesome configurability of KDE programs.  You can REALLY have your mail sorted the way you want.   I’m not 100% sure I got it the way I wanted, but KDE’s help system is severely broken in my install of Fedora 14.  I need to do some research to see if I have some package uninstalled.  The only other complaint I’ve had is that emails that are starred on Gmail appear green and not red when they’re unread.  So it’s hard to see if I’ve read them yet.  I’m about 75% sure about that – I don’t have any examples right now in my inbox.  What I do like about the way Kontact organizes email is that it’s similar to Outlook by dividing my emails by day:

KDE 4.5 - Kontact - kmail
KDE 4.5 - Kontact - kmail

The calendar part of Kontact works perfectly with the Google Calendar.  It adds it to my summary page and gives me pop-ups when necessary.  I wasn’t able to figure out how to export my TODO list to Kontact, so I haven’t been using it.  But I played around with it a bit.  It looks like it was modeled after a slimmed MS Project or whatever Gnome’s Project-equivalent is (KPlato in KOffice).  I’m pretty stoked that you can assign sub-tasks.  This might revolutionize the way I do TODO lists.

I haven’t used the feed reader part of Kontact too much.  It’s an integration of Akgregator.  In the past it’s been very crashy.  From what I’ve used so far, it seems pretty pretty good.  There’s an interesting discrepancy in the displayed webpage, however.  Here’s a page from Dan’s blog on Akgregator:

Kontact's Akgregator displaying Dan's page
Kontact's Akgregator displaying Dan's page

Here’s the same page in Liferea – my second favorite gtk program:

Liferea displaying Dan's page
Liferea displaying Dan's page

So what’s the reason for the discrepancy?  I looked around in the options and I couldn’t figure out how to make it act like Liferea.  It’s not a game killer, but it could really sour me on Akgregator after a few weeks of that crap.  If anyone has any help, provide it in the comments.  Thanks!

I would just use the KDE uBlog Plasmoid, but I would need one plasmoid each for Twitter and Identica.  So I did some research and found out that Chokoq is the KDE version of Gwibber, which I love on Gnome.  So, first the deficiencies.  Unless I do a quick post, I can only send to one service at a time.  Gwibber, by contrast lets me send to all my services at the same time.  Since I usually post to both places, that’s a bit annoying.  Also, Gwibber has had Facebook integration for a while.  I’m not all that into Facebook, but I *do* like being able to post stuff there.  I also use it to keep up with my friends’ feeds without having to visit the stupid website.  Now what I like.  My favorite feature of Chokoq and, perhaps, the killer app is the fact that it lets me know which notices are unread (white in the following screenshot):

Choqok 1.0 Beta 4
Choqok 1.0 Beta 4

Most of the time I’m enjoying Choqok without noticing that I’m not using Gwibber.  The main developer has decided to have a system where you can request new features and he sets a donation target to work on that feature.  Overall, this is great – it’s what rms said the future of programming would be once we commoditized software.  However, I find it a bit worrisome in the way I perceive it happening on Choqok.  After all, does this mean no features are developed if no one pays the full bounty?  I see some features there that have been stuck with half their donation amounts for the past few months.  Does this mean those features don’t ever get implemented?  I guess what it allows for is someone else to just do it all for free and then Choqok loses all their users.  I’m not against software developers making money via donations.  Or, in this case, payment for features.  I’m just not sure it’s progressing in the right way as I understand it from the Choqok website.

So, I got some info in a dent that NEPOMUK is going to be better integrated with Dolphin in the next release.  That said, I wanted to see what the results of all the freakin’ indexing would lead to.  So I decided to search for Girl Talk songs.  I know that those particular files have the proper metadata because they show up properly in Rhythmbox.  And I know that the artist’s name is not in the filename since it’s not a track I ripped off a CD.  NEPOMUK and Dolphin failed to find it:

In KDE 4.5 NEPOMUK and Dolphin search fails to find Girl Talk songs
In KDE 4.5 NEPOMUK and Dolphin search fails to find Girl Talk songs

I know that it must be looking inside of the text-based file formats because the Discworld PDFs don’t have those words in the filename.  So, I decided to try the Strigi search program in case it I needed that to specify MP3 metadata.  Here’s what I got:

Impotent Strigi-client
Impotent Strigi-client

None of the buttons appear to do – when I press them nothing happens.  When I type to search it doesn’t even find as much as NEPOMUK and Dolphin.  If I’m doing something wrong, feel free to let me know.

So now I move to looking at Kopete.  As you know, I recently switched to Empathy from Pidgin.  I didn’t find it to be immensely better, but I liked the theming and the Gnome integration.  What I don’t like about Kopete off the bad is that it’s a lot harder than in Empathy to tell people’s status if you allow their buddy icon to show.

kopete-buddy-list
Kopete buddy-list

I’m still not a huge fan of how the away status is separate from the message.  It’s quite a bit trickier to tell what’s going on with that.  However, given the decrease in the use of the status message due to the rise of micro-blogging, it’s not as important.  Most of the time a simple away is fine.  I just wish it were more intuitive if I *did* want to put a message.  Finally, unlike Empathy, it does not have Facebook integration.  With Chokoq I didn’t mind it as much because most of the time I don’t keep up that much with Facebook statuses.  Although I don’t have that many friends, I have enough of them that I can’t read them all or that’s all I’d be doing all day.  But I *do* want Facebook chat.  At lot of people I know, especially older people, only have a FB account.  They don’t have AIM or Gmail or the others.  So it’s the only way I can talk to them.  So, Kopete guys – let’s get some Facebook chat going on!

For IRC I’ve been using Konversation.  I find that it works just as well as Xchat-Gnome.  I use IRC here and there so I’m not too picky about my IRC client.

Konversation in KDE 4.5
Konversation in KDE 4.5

There’s only one issue with Konversation.  With both Xchat-Gnome and Konversation I have it setup to auto-log me in (provide password) and sign into the rooms I always go into.  Yet, with Konversation it adds me to the rooms BEFORE it authenticates my nick.  So I’m always dumped into #Fedora-unauthorized and then have to rejoin Fedora.  So I have to do some research to see if I can set a delay or something.

I’m enjoying Plasmoids.  They’re definitely neater than SuperKaramba – especially since they’re so integrated into everything.  I added both of the [default installated] weather plasmoids to see which one I’d like.  I ended up with some interesting results.

Weather Plasmoids
Weather Plasmoids

They’re both using wetter.com and they both have exactly the same city listed.  The one on the right is correct.  The one on the left is….very much not.  Anyway, I have some exploration to do over time to figure out which Plasmoids are useful and something I’d like to keep on the desktop.

I haven’t gotten into activities yet.  So far I haven’t seen a need for it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future.

Kpackagekit appears to be set to find updates a lot more often than Gnome’s Packagekit.  I’ve certainly updated more in this week than I have in Gnome.  And I know that the Gnome one doesn’t check that often because there’ve been times when Pup hasn’t alerted me but when I do a yum check-update I see that there are updates to install.  I like it although I think it’d be nice if they also used the package metaphor to help keep it nice and easy to see what’s installed or selected to be installed.  Otherwise it’s been a pleasure using it to do installations.  It actually appears to search the repos more quickly than the Gnome version.

Now, I can’t remember if this comes from a Fedora package I installed, but GTK apps in KDE use KDE native icons, themes, etc.  I love it!  Back in the bad old days, it sucked to use GTK applications in KDE because they looked so ugly and out of place.  Sure, some programs out there use wxwidgets and still look ugly and out of place, but the majority of the major programs out there either use GTK or KDE-QT for their widgets and icons and so on.  Look how nice and integrated gPodder looks:

gPodder with KDE look/feel
gPodder with KDE look/feel

So, after about a week of using KDE 4.5, what do I think?  Well, I really like it!  For now it’s going to be my default desktop environment on Super Mario.  I’m going to take advantage of all the little things that KDE does better than Gnome and see if the things I don’t like about KDE can either be tolerated or fixed with future updates – or maybe even commenters who will tell me what I’m doing wrong.  I used to use KDE 3.3, 3.4 and 3.5 as I’ve mentioned before.  At some point, the memory needs of KDE and its excessive tendency to crash (when compared with Gnome) drove me away.  I went back and forth between Gnome, Xfce and the *box window managers.  Perhaps I’m now back to stay for good.  Only time will tell.  And, of course, I’ll re-evaluate things when Gnome 3.0 comes out.  But, until then, I think I’m KDE all the way!

To anyone who’s wondered about the KDE 4.x series or who thinks they need to move on to Trinity:  I think you need to check out KDE 4.5.  I’m very happy with the way it’s been handled in Fedora 14.  (Your mileage may vary when it comes to other distros)  Although I always tried to make sure I was very nice and fair in the way I did it, I definitely expressed my disappointment in earlier KDE 4.x releases.  It is super customizable now.  I made a disappearing, tiny panel on my right monitor that only contains launchers for my favorite programs.  And I put it on the top of my screen.  Overall, the programs and DE are very stable.  This entire week I only had Kontact die on me once.  Up until a recent series of fixes with Evolution – it was dying on me nearly every time I added a task to the TODO list.  It does appear to need a bit more RAM thank some of the others DEs and WMs.  So depending on how much of a gear head you are and how much money you have for computer tech, that might be an issue.  But KDE is SO customizable that I’ve barely scratched the surface – discovering new options in my attempts to make sure I scoured every option before complaining that a program wasn’t doing what I wanted it to.  So perhaps if you turn off all the special effects and make some other customizations it can also be very light.  But definitely give it a shot.  Don’t hang onto the past just because you’re afraid of change.

KDE 4 Look Part 2: Amarok 2.3.2 in KDE 4.5 and Fedora 14

Amarok 2.5.2
Amarok 2.5.2
There was a time when I thought Amarok was the best music player on Linux.  I even used to run it in Gnome as you can see from this 2005 screenshot.  In that first link you can read me gushing over Amarok 1.4.  I loved all the integrated technologies, especially the metadata juggling Amarok did.  The first few Amarok 2.x releases with the KDE 4 libraries were complete crap.  They were ugly and were missing nearly all of Amarok’s features.  (Mirroring the complaints people were having about KDE 4 at the time)  When I took a look at Amarok and KDE 4.4 in October I said I would take another look at Amarok.

Well, all this time KDE had been calling to me.  There was something elegant and beautiful in KDE 4.4 that kept tugging at me.  Maybe it was time to abandon Gnome again?  I probably wouldn’t stop using all gtk apps – I love me some gPodder.  But perhaps I would switch my major apps and desktop environment over to the KDE side.  It would be the first time in a very long time that I did that.  (Although with Gnome 3 coming, perhaps it’s the perfect timing for KDE’s new-found stability?)  So after I did an upgrade to Fedora 14 that left Gnome’s panels a bit buggy, (I later realized it was *probably* my fault because I forgot to run yum distribution-synchronization – although as I write this I haven’t tested Gnome since running that command) I decided it was time to log into KDE and check out Amarok.

Amarok 2.3.2 on startup
Amarok 2.3.2 on startup

Amarok detected most, but not all of my new albums on the new Album widget.  I didn’t check if the missing albums (new MC Frontalot songs) were in the library or not.  But what it made me think was that I need to check and see if I can configure the widget to show more than just five albums.  I mean look at all that empty space.

Look at all that horrible, horrible empty space!
Look at all that horrible, horrible empty space! Look at it!

When I compare this to how it looked in Amarok 1.4 – you can see that the three panel layout makes more sense.  Before you had to switch back and forth between the playlist and the context stuff that’s now handled with the widgets.  The thing that’s LESS elegant in Amarok 2.3 is that these widgets are all separated whereas they’re stacked in Amarok 1.4.  So you have to click around rather than getting all the album and track info at a glance.  It allows for a more customized experience, but I hate having to click around.

When I got home I decided to play around with the widgets before I complained about it.  After all, it was only fair!  So I started playing around with the widgets and found that most of them could be configured if you right-clicked near the title of each widget.  So for the albums applet I was able to up the number of albums via this setting:

Changing the Albums applet setting in Amarok 2.3.2
Changing the Albums applet setting in Amarok 2.3.2

And viola!  It had more albums (including at least one of the missing MC Frontalot albums) See:

Amarok 2.3.2 finds more albums when you tell it to!
Amarok 2.3.2 finds more albums when you tell it to!

Also you may notice that it fixed the problem I was talking about with wasted space.  Check this out.

Amarok 2.3.2 - no longer wasting space!
Amarok 2.3.2 - no longer wasting space!

Apparently, if you put the modules in the proper order – they’ll sort themselves out like this.  There’s just one problem – I can’t figure out how exactly it works.  Like can it only be three things?  What determines how many things you can fit on one screen?  It wasn’t quite intuitive to figure that out.  Still, it is indeed neat to have the photos there.  It’s just that if I put the album info above the photos, then the photos don’t show!  Perhaps someone can explain in the comments?

Now, as you can see, the automatic ratings are working correctly here.  The more I listen to a song, the higher it goes.  If I skip songs, it lowers.  I like that.  It allows the computer to do a better job of being an objective observer than I can be.  There are lots of songs that I have marked as 4 stars in Rhythmbox.

Amarok auto-scoring my songs
Amarok auto-scoring my songs - it gets more accurate with time

As a quick recap: I have at least one week if not two weeks of continuous music on my computer.  I want to be able to just randomly play from this music without having to constantly skip songs I don’t like.  So I have an auto-playlist (AKA smart playlists in some music programs) that grabs all songs rated greater than four stars.  So I have to tag all my music.  Untagged music is not heard by me.  I recently either blogged or microblogged about discovering some albums I had COMPLETELY forgotten about because they had languished unrated.  Of course, rating songs takes my attention away from other things.  So I have to only rate songs when I’m doing a task that I don’t mind being interrupted from every 3-5 minutes to rate a song.  Rhythmbox has one other flaw (depending on your point of view) – when you play songs on random, it gives greater weight to higher rated songs.  Actually this reminds me of another flaw that I will mention in conjunction with this one.  Just give me a second.  So it’s not really random and I’m actually more likely to hear songs I’ve tagged as five stars (I REALLY like them).  But the point of random is that I don’t want to always hear the same songs and get sick of them.  This combines with the other flaw I just remembered – Rhythmbox does not save playlist state.  In other words, let’s say I have a playlist of the newest songs I’ve added to my library.  I start listening without random turned on.  I get partway through the list and I go to bed.  I will turn off my computer because I’m not going to use it again until I get home from work the next day somewhere around 16 hours or more later.  I don’t want to waste money on electricity, harm the environment, or wear our my computer’s parts.  The next day I boot into Fedora and turn on Rhythmbox and go to that list.  If I hit play it will start from the beginning of that list again!  Now, I can look on the right and figure out the last song I played yesterday and go from there, but that’s annoying.  So if you combine both of these “flaws” – I tend to hear the same songs very often even though I use random.

Wow, that wasn’t a quick recap at all.  Hope you’re still with me.  Anyway, let’s get back to why it’s awesome that Amarok automatically rates my music.  So, as I go through my collection, I know that if I rate something as 3 stars I’m effectively never going to hear it.  Right now there’s an insane amount of music in  my 4 star and up list.  I don’t need more music in there.  So the initiative is for me to rate a song at 4 stars if I think I’ll want to hear it again.  (I *do* use 1 and 2 stars for songs I NEVER want to hear and songs I hate, respectively, in case I ever make a list of 3 stars and up)  So there are songs that I may THINK I like just because I want to make sure I hear it.  Or there may be songs I THINK I like because of emotional reasons – favorite song in HS, first song I slow danced to, etc But a majority of the time when it comes up in Rhtymbox I’ll skip it.  An automatic rating system based on how much I skip a song will provide a more accurate rating of what I like.  Additionally, as my music tastes change (as they have with my age), the ratings will evolve to reflect that.

Now, there was one thing that was making me hesitant with going back to Amarok.  With Rhythmbox, Banshee, Songbird, iTunes, etc your entire music collection is already a playlist.  You just start playing any track in your library and it keeps playing from there.  But Amarok is based on playlists!  I know I’ve talked somewhere on this blog (or maybe the old one) about how I hate making playlists.  I get paralyzed about which songs to hear.  Just like when my wife asks what I want for dinner and suddenly I can only think of about three of the dozens of recipes we know how to make, when I try to make a playlist I can’t remember from the hundreds of artists I have on my computer.  So what to do?

Amarok’s dynamic playlists to the rescue!  It generates a random playlist based on some criteria or on pure randomness.  I went with the latter.  I was happy with the results.  It was truly random.  I heard a Shakira song I hadn’t hear in ages.  And, here’s the best part compared to Rhythmbox!  I exited Amarok to reboot after a kernel update.

Amarok 2.3.2's dynamic playlists
Amarok 2.3.2's dynamic playlists

When I came back, it had found my spot and I was able to keep going.  For once I will truly be able to go through my entire collection (more or less) and not hear the same song again until I’m done!  Things are really looking up for Amarok!

Amarok 2.3.2 playlist comes back after restart!
Amarok 2.3.2 playlist comes back after restart!

Some other features I noticed that I liked include the ability to love tracks on last.fm from within Amarok.  As far as I know, Rhythmbox ONLY allows this if you’re listening to a last.fm stream.  With Amarok you can do it while listening to your library.  It’s not a killer feature on its own, but I know that I have “loved” far fewer songs than otherwise because, right now, I have to go to the last.fm website to do that.  So that’s something I really like.

Another feature that has finally made it back from the 1.4 days and is working properly again is the ability to set playback to stop after a certain song has finished.  This doesn’t happen THAT often, but there are times when I want to finish listening to a song as I get dressed or do something else, and then have the playback stop without me having to go back to the computer to stop it.

One quick thing I wanted to address specifically for Dan.  I mentioned him before as another huge fan of Amarok from the 1.4 days.  He said that he can’t use it because it messes up his Japanese songs and the metadata is just squares.  Dan, check out Sambomaster on Amarok:

Amarok 2.3.2 and Sambomaster!!
Amarok 2.3.2 and Sambomaster!!

Not only that, but the upcoming events even works!

Amarok keeps you abreast of Sambomaster events!
Amarok keeps you abreast of Sambomaster events!

Is there still room for improvement?  Sure!  Perhaps fixing the widgets up a little more.  Improving the ability to scan the library more quickly.  Really the danger is that it’s finally so good that the devs will get bored and either bloat it up with useless features or let it decay.

I have decided to stick to KDE for a week or two to properly assess whether I will migrate back to KDE from Gnome.  So in that time I’ll be using Amarok for music playback.  That should give me a lot more time to notice any niggles that annoy me as well as find any stability problems.

For a quick chuckle…I don’t know what Amarok is using for the backend for grabbing the band photos, but there was a bit of a FAIL with the old 1950s/1960s band The Playmates

Not THOSE Playmates!
Not THOSE Playmates!

Another Look at KDE and Amarok Part 1

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be really excited about KDE.  It’s been a while since I last looked at KDE.  Well, technically, I couldn’t really do much there.  But there’s this time I was able to look at it.  Let me just say that I no longer agree that it’s uglier than Gnome.  Take a look:

My KDE 4.4 Desktop
My KDE 4.4 Desktop

At first I was confused because the desktop background was not carried over to my right monitor.  When I went to change the background I saw that they no longer put it all into one dialog.  You need to go to each screen and manually set the background.  While counterintuitive at first, it actually makes more sense this way.  You can see my micro-blogging widget, calculator widget, and some folder views.  The taskbar is looking nice and slick now.  The KDE version of the system try is looking really nice.  It has a very good slickness to it; to quote Aaron Seigo, “like something that might come out of Cupertino”.  My FAVORITE part of KDE 4.4 vs Gnome 2.30 is the little “i” i the right corner.  If you click there you can scroll back through all the system messages.  So, whereas you might miss that in Gnome if you’re looking somewhere else or away from the computer, you can easily find and review the messages in KDE.  At first the desktop was really slow and I thought “here we go again.  I’m going to have to once again write off KDE 4.x as useless.”  But it turns out that it was just Strigi/Nepomuk indexing my home folder.  It’d be a year or more since I last loaded KDE 4, so it had a lot to index.  When I also had some errors with Amarok (which I’m about to get to), I gave it a reboot in case KDE was having a fight with SELinux (as has happened in the past).  Anyway, when I came back, Strigi was done and KDE was much more responsive.  Konqueror had also been slow during the indexing, so I’ll want to test that in Part 2.  I took a look at my old friend, Kopete.  It was looking nice, if a bit cartoony compared to Pidgin.  I’ll also want to take a closer look in Part 2.  It didn’t support Facebook chat (as is supported in Pidgin via a plugin) which isn’t a killer, but it’s not good.  Perhaps there’s a plugin there too?  I’ll have to investigate that.  What I was most curious about was Amarok.  It was one of my biggest anchors to KDE back in the day and really my favorite music player.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Where's my music?

I’d added tons of new albums since I last used KDE.  Where were they?  This was a bit alarming.  It distracted me from noticing much else about the player.  I loaded up the local collection:

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - OK....seriously, why aren't you seeing my music?

There were artists and albums missing from here.  There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.  Some new albums were there and others weren’t.  Some Flacs were there and some OGGs were there.  I checked and it had all of my library set to index.  It said it was done!  And I checked all over the web.  But I couldn’t find an answer to my dilema.  Well, I decided to play with what I had to check out the new interface.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Lyrics
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Checking out the Lyrics Plugin and new layout

First of all, it looks a lot nicer than earlier 2.x releases.  I’m not going to go as far as say that it looks as nice as the 1.4 release, because that was really nice, but it looks a LOT better.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what was so offensive to my eyes with the early 2.x releases, but the best I can think of is that it felt cobbled together.  The plugins just didn’t feel as cohesive and it seemed to be held together by glue.  In a way, it was true because Amarok is one of the programs that best exemplified using all of the KDE tech – plasma, plugins, etc, but they didn’t hide it.  A clumsy building analogy – I shouldn’t see the plumbing, bricks, rafters as separate pieces – it should feel like a cohesive whole and I shouldn’t think about the components.  I think they were much more successful this time around.  Above you can see the lyrics plugin providing lyrics for a song.  One thing I really liked was the fact that by the previous and next tracks, it lists the name of the track.  Sure, it’s basically pointless because you can look at the playlist on the right and see what the current and next tracks are.  But I can appreciate the elegance – if your eyes are already on the next button why should they have to wander?  Also, perhaps you’ve scrolled around on the list and lost track of the current track.  This info can help you get your bearings.

Eventually at some point, I don’t remember if I closed Amarok, some of my most recent albums were picked up by the player.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Finally finds some of my new albums. Yeah, Danielle's been on a Disney soundtrack binge

OK, I thought.  Things are starting to pick up.  It’s starting to work correctly.  But it’s still missing my FAVORITE part from KDE – the stats!  So I looked through the available widgets/plugins and found the Current Track widget/plugin.  Surely that’s what I was looking for.  Except it claimed no track was playing although you can clearly see in the screenshot below that I am indeed playing a song.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - No, there's definitely a song playing....

I wanted to double-check that Amarok knew a song was playing, so I clicked on the wikipedia tab.

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - Accessing Wikipedia

So it knew a song was playing and could get info based on that.  Let me take a quick aside to say that while this could be done in Amarok 1.4, this is much more elegantly handled.  Also, between the two music players I have experience with that can do this (Songbird and Amarok), I think Amarok handles it best and with less lag.  I think Banshee can do something like this, but I’m not into Banshee.  At this point I had pretty much given up on Amarok.  After all, it couldn’t find all of my library.  It didn’t know that songs where playing.  I just didn’t get the point of using it over Rhythmbox.  But, I’d been having some problems with KDE.  It was slow and Kontact had refused to launch.  Maybe I should give it another shot.  Maybe I needed to reboot so that SELinux or some other process would figured itself out.  So I rebooted.  I was very happy to see that KDE 4.4 was no longer so sluggish and that Amarok now found the missing songs!

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 - THERE"S my music library!

So, as I mentioned above, I’m 99% sure that the sluggishness was caused by Strigi.  Now, Strigi/Nepomuk was cataloging my music library.  Does Amarok use that or did that cause Amarok to be slow in indexing my music library?  If it was still indexing my music library, should it have told me it was done?  It didn’t matter because I was happy everything worked.  And I’m documenting it for others out there who may find themselves in the same predicament.

And there was even more good news!  Amarok now knew it was playing music!

Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4
Amarok 2.3.1 on KDE 4.4 finally figured out it's playing music

Conclusion?  If you put in a new widget/plugin, maybe you need to restart Amarok so it can be properly initialized?  Well, as Dan (my brother who was asking me about this today at lunch) can see, with the “Current Track” widget we finally see the triumphant return of stats!  Also, Dan, if you still have your Amarok 1.4 stats somewhere on your hard drive, you can import those into here.  I didn’t try it, but there’s a button for it.  You can also import from iTunes if you have been listening to your music on there.  (Just kidding, I know Dan uses some other music program because iTunes is crap!)  Why are these stats so important to Dan and I?  I have no bloody idea.  It’s just some strange consequence of the way our brains are wired and was the primary reason we loved to use Amarok back in the 1.4 days.  See that score there?  That’s the dynamic way to rate music.  It works a lot better than what I’ve had to do in Rhythmbox.  It scores 0-100 based on how often you play it.  So you don’t to go through your entire music collection to rate it, as I’ve tirelessly been doing.  Just let your playlist play and skip any songs you hate and they’ll sink in the ratings while the ones you like rise in the ratings.  At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work – how it worked in 1.4.  I was blindly rating songs because I’m used to that from the years-long Rhythmbox usage.  Let’s just say, I’m very psyched to further explore this when I do my KDE look part 2.

So I tried to launch Kontact again and it turned out that I had been blaming KDE for the reason it wouldn’t launch when it was really my fault.  In addition to doing in-place upgrades (supported in recent Fedoras, but not as clean as a wipe-install), I changed computers around a year ago when mario broke.  So KDE was confused because it had a lockfile (or something) active from mario and now I was on supermario.  So I told it not to worry and go ahead and launch Kontact.

Kontact on KDE 4.4 Summary Page
Kontact on KDE 4.4 Summary Page

Kontact opens up on a NICE summary page.  (Which I’ve mucked up because you have no business knowing where I’m going to be and when)  Anyway, I like it enough that I decided to investigate where Evolution can be set to do the same.  I couldn’t find how to set it just by looking in preferences.  Man, I couldn’t find it looking through help either.  It’s so nice and allows me to to see what I have coming up without having to seek it in the calendar mode.  This alone might be enough to make it worth switching.  I’ll have to investigate contact some more next time around.  Here’s what the email section looks like:

Kontact on KDE 4.4 Email Page
Kontact on KDE 4.4 Email Page

The biggest takeaway is that KDE is FINALLY stable.  I didn’t have one crash at all.  Ever since my KDE 3.5 days I’ve always found it to be very crashy and buggy.  And when I first looked at KDE 4.0 it was doubly so.  Now it seems usable.  Now I might change over to it.  We’ll see what I end up doing.  But I’ll definitely give it another look in a few days.

One last, good look at KDE 3 Part 1

As you can see, by trawling through this, I have gone back and forth between KDE and Gnome a lot. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I initially loved KDE over Gnome. It looked more like Windows, it had more neat options, and great programs. Not only is Amarok the best media player out there (although Rhythmbox is not far behind), but the KDE programs feel so much more tightly integrated than Gnome. That’s one part where they’ve always had a huge lead over Gnome, although Gnome has been catching up recently. Still, I hope that KDE continues to evolve its KParts and KIOSlaves infrastructures. (Or whatever they evolve into in KDE4) KDE programs also just seemed to fit together visually so much better, I don’t know why because Gnome has the HIG.

But I left KDE for Gnome for a few reasons. First of all, as Gnome has been getting leaner and leaner on system resources, the KDE 3 series remained bloated as a blue whale sloshing around in my RAM as though it was just a kiddie pool and not the ocean. Also, I have had KDE programs crash on me orders of magnitude more often than Gnome programs. Finally, KDE has always been treated as a second-class citizen within Red Hat. That’s why Mandrake was original started! It was originally just a KDE version of Red Hat before branching off and losing RPM compatibility.

But now I want to look at KDE again because a few things have come together to change some of the reasons why I left KDE. First of all, with KDE 4 by basing the desktop on QT4 plus other refinements it’s supposed to be light as a feather on RAM. Sure, it still won’t equate to Fluxbox, but I have a modern system, I just don’t want it to swallow up my RAM like that Kobiyashi at the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest. Also, ever since Fedora 7, The Fedora Project has had the KDE Special Interest Group to make sure that KDE is treated well within Fedora. It finally has integration with the updatesd program, responsible for notifying me when there are updates to download. It was really a pain to see that in Gnome and not in KDE. I also wanted to look at KDE 3 now to document what it looked like and how it worked for me so that I can compare this to my experience with KDE 4.

So, I logged into KDE from a fresh startup in Mario. It loaded up a little bit slower than Gnome, but not by too much. And, it’s not fair to look at that because KDE saves the state of your desktop when you logout so I have it automatically loading SuperKaramba, Kopete, KGPG, Kerry Beagle, KGet, and Tomboy. Recently I’ve switched to accessing my Gmail via IMAP vs POP3. This allows me to login via KDE or Gnome and have access to the same emails in my inbox. So, since I always have Evolution and Rhythmbox open in Gnome, I opened up Kmail and Amarok.

So here’s what my main desktop looked like:

Main KDE Desktop

Before I continue, let me say that the developers of Konqueror have some work to do. Apparently they don’t support AJAX very well because I am not able to use any of the advanced features of my blog nor does Gmail work with full functionality. So who cares if it passes the Acid2 test if it doesn’t work on the sites that I need it to.

Amarok is my favorite media player for all of the work it does with your metadata. Whereas other media players stop at using the music’s metadata to sort the music or, if it’s more advanced, to create auto-playlists, Amarok does SO much more! For example, here’s the data it shows on each song as it plays:

Amarok Artist info

The info on how many times you’ve played the song and the last time you’ve played it is nothing special, but beneath lies the power of Amarok. You can add labels to each of your songs and then use that to create dynamic play lists. Amarok then consults last.fm to figure out which artists are similar to the one you’re listening to. So you can use this to acquire music by other artists that may be similar to the one you’re listening to. Then, it also lists all the music in your current music library that are by similar artists. And it also shows the rating each song has. After all, you may have songs by similar artists which you don’t like. This is a good point to mention that I really like Amarok’s rating system. Unlike others which are on a 5 star scale, Amarok is a 0-100 scale so it gives a lot more room to tell how much you like the song. Also, their auto-rating system works better than any other I’ve ever used. Anyway, under that is a list of your favorite songs by the same artist. So if you can easily jump to any of those songs by double-clicking. Then it shows each of your albums by the same artist and if you click those you can see the songs on those albums. Tell me you’ve seen another media application that makes such a good use of the metadata it has on your music! But it doesn’t stop there.

Amarok Lyrics Tab

If the song you’re listening to is reasonably popular, clicking on the lyrics tab will bring up the lyrics to the song. You can learn them or just use it to sing along to one you don’t know as well. And there’s one more bit of nice integration thanks to the use of KParts, Amarok can integrate Konqueror into it and you can see the Wikipedia page for the artist you’re listening to.

Amarok Artist Wiki

And sometimes I start up a media player and I’m not sure where to go; what I want to listen to. Here Amarok is also helpful.

Amarok Opening Tab

What I like here is that it lists your newest five albums.  For Rhythmbox I had to create a dynamic playlist to hold my newest albums.  It also lists your favorite albums.  So if you want to quickly jump to listen to some music you know you’ll love, you can just double click on those and get the songs.  Or you can drag the album over to the right into the playlist.

I’d also like to look at Kopete for this look at KDE 3 because I think it’s very, very good.  It has a very different aesthetic than Pidgin, so it’s hard to say objectively which one is best.  However, Kopete *does* have many, many more configuration options.  Check out how many plugins it has:

Kopete Plugins, Options and Main Window

My favorite is the Now Listening plugin.  Pidgin has a similar one, but it doesn’t seem to actually ever work.  The other really great thing about Kopete is how you can customize it to suit your style.  Unlike Pidgin which is mostly an AIM clone, Kopete lets you pick everything from your Smiley Style to Chat Window style.

Kopete Visual Configuration - SmiliesKopete Visual Configuration - Emulation Style

And here’s how I have my chat window:

Kopete Chat Window

So far KDE hasn’t been too unstable.  I’m glad I finally fixed the problem where Compiz kept starting in KDE as it was having a huge detrimental affect.  So far I could potentially go back to KDE.  More in a future post.