If it ain’t broke…

What happened to me today as I was messing around on my system is a perfect example of the wisdom of the old saying. For example…

I had a nostalgic feel for my Unicomp Model M keyboard, so I thought I’d re-purpose my Corsair Vengeance K65 Gaming Keyboard to my laptop. Keep in mind, however, that I had a perfectly working bluetooth setup, and that, along with my keyboard and mouse, worked through USB. My Unicomp, however, has a legacy PS/2 connector. Which, in theory, shouldn’t have been a problem. Just substitute the Unicomp for the Corsair. Right? WRONG!! Using a legacy connector turned out to introduce all sorts of lag to my system, which has communication layers like this: Audio–>PulseAudio–>Bluetooth.

In order for this system to work flawlessly, the same bus (USB) has to be used; legacy connections are a NO-NO. This has to do with the way Linux routes communications from the system peripherals. From what I’ve been able to gather, the PS/2 connector introduces major amounts of lag; I’ve not measured, but if I start a song via VLC, and then press stop, it will take 1-3 seconds for the sound to actually stop. Not an acceptable solution.

I only discovered this by logical reasoning, after messing around with certain system files, files which previously had worked without issue. When I met with failure time and time again, I sat back and thought about it. Then it made perfect sense.

Only after re-swapping the Corsair for the Unicomp, did my system return to its previously perfect working order. This was a humiliating lesson for me, one which I, in retrospect, should have known was going to happen, but frequently as happens with us humans, doesn’t become painfully clear until after the lesson has been taught.

Moral of the story: Don’t mess with your system, even if you think you have good reason to do so, unless first you assess why your system works the way it does, and then make the adjustment only if you’re sure the adjustment will not bork your system’s performance.

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Auto-connecting Bluetooth via PulseAudio

NOTE: I think I’ve found a way to make sure this blog has regular postings; to document solutions I’ve discovered, so as not to forget it next time around.

Without further ado, here goes nothing:

I recently bought a Bluetooth stereo receiver, a Denon AVR-S510BT. As it’s intended to be an entry-level receiver, there’s not much in the way of included feature(s), like support for popular streaming services such as Pandora or Spotify, or even hardware connections like Ethernet; it only has Bluetooth connectivity, which for my purposes is perfect. I spend most of my time in my apartment, using a part of it for my home office. The distances involved are well within Bluetooth range (~30 ft). Testing has borne this out; connections are strong, with nary a dropout. For someone who really enjoys his music, once I get into a song, there’s nothing more frustrating than a dropout, or worse, a series of them.

My receiver is programmed to auto-connect to a bluetooth device upon startup, as the mode specified is Bluetooth. I have it automatically paired (trusted & authorized) to my Slackware computer. For playing my music, I use VLC, a handy, versatile player that has never failed me yet.

The problem was that for my receiver to successfully connect, I had to manually right-click the bluetooth icon in the system tray to pull up the app, then I would hit the ‘Connect’ button, then the receiver would proceed to connect. Which is all well and good, but this is something I would much rather see the computer automatically accomplish instead of myself. There’s a good reason that there’s a saying that goes, ‘Google is your best friend’.

Because it is.

One search, and I was able to connect to a forum site which gave me the solution. One that was rather simple; add a single line to a file.

I added the line:

load-module module-switch-on-connect

to the file /etc/pulse/default.pa.

Now for the acid test.

I saved the changes to the file, and shut off my receiver. Next, I rebooted my computer. Once my computer came back up, I turned my receiver back on. Like clockwork, it automatically connected without the slightest intervention from yours truly.

Sometimes, it pays to be persistent; one never knows what solutions lurk out there in the dark byways of the Information Superhighway unless one looks and doesn’t give up easily.

My Journey To Slackware

I thought I’d republish here a post I made on Slackware’s forum, so as to preserve this personal valuable content, and not have it lost to the forum’s constant rearranging of topics.

Without further ado:

I started using computers in the fall of ’84, when, as a fresh-faced student in junior high, I had my first taste of computers. The very first computer I tried was a TRS-80 Model I. By today’s standards, it was, and is, hopelessly underpowered, but for me, it was a chance to control something in my life. I knew from the moment I saw it that computers would become my life’s passion. That has not changed.

When I entered high school, I took a programming class, and they used Apple IIe computers (a computer, by the way, I have major respect for, having been imbued with the genius of one Steve Wozniak, and the last computer Apple made which I used with regularity). That whetted my appetite for programming at the time, and I wanted more.

After getting out of the military, I started building my own computers. Anyone who started in that era will remember vividly when add-on cards came with jumpers, and a manual that detailed what settings controlled what IRQ line it would take, what memory range it would occupy, etc. To have a working system then would have been a work of art, and maybe a bit of genius.

It was around ’96 when I first heard of this open-source OS called Linux. At the time, I was running FreeBSD, and liked its init system, and hoped for something similarly simple to administrate. Nevertheless, I experimented with some of the other major offerings to see if something else would be better suited to my tastes.

Alas, none of the major offerings (Red Hat, SuSE, Caldera, among others) came close to satisfying my need for tweaking my system to my heart’s content. In frustration, I googled for a distro which was similar to BSD. Among the results was a mention of something called Slackware. Curious, I checked it out. The description sounded like what I was looking for, so I downloaded it. This was in, I believe, about 2006, soon after the release of 10.2; I bought 11.0 on CD-ROM when it was released, as a measure of good faith.

I had to use Windows for some applications back then, because application support wasn’t where it is now, and so I dual-booted. But gradually, as Linux app support became better, I gradually used Windows less and less, and in about 2012, I stopped using it entirely. And I have had no reason to regret leaving it behind.

The reason I use Slackware is because it gives me the experience that those older home computers gave me: it forced me to know what my computer was doing behind the scenes. When something was broken or didn’t work right, I was forced to find my own solution. Solving problems can be simultaneously frustrating and exhilarating. For me, it is something that I can never explain to another who is not already intimately familiar with that experience. You just have to experience it for yourself.

I can’t ever imagine another distro that will give me that experience and for that reason alone, I will continue using Slackware for as long as it is maintained. Hopefully that will be for awhile!!