Audible.com Issues

4 10 2012

I have recently signed up for and canceled from audible.com and I want to let you (and audible) know why. These are in the order of problems, not the ranking of the problem.

I have been watching a bunch of Revision3 shows recently and I have been enjoying many of them. One of the ways R3 makes any money is through advertisers (duh!) and so I have been signing up for and using a few of the services that seem to fit my needs. I have been using the R3 codes just so that the sponsors know I approve of them sponsoring R3. One advertisement I had seen before but never quite made sense to me was Audible.com. I don’t find myself with a ton of time to just listen to audiobooks (on the other side, music I listen to frequently as background ambiance) except when I take a road trip in which audiobooks are awesome! The last few months have been rather crazy and I have found myself driving ~10 hours a week or more. I got my hands on a box set of audiobooks and ripped through them much faster then I thought I would. The problem with scouring bookstores these days for audiobooks is that they frequently have 1) teenie-bopper crap-o-the-week and 2) are way too expensive.

A week or so ago, those two merged together when I was watching an R3 show and the light finally dawned on me. Audible.com totally makes sense now! I browsed online for a bit and they had several book series I was really excited about and had been meaning to read (whenever I get that mystical free time). I signed up right away…or at least I tried to.

Problem 1) I found the site very difficult to sign up and had to contact customer support to do so.

For no particular reason, the site would either just hang when I tried to sign up, or it would complain I was missing a field which clearly had text data in it! Fine, they have the option to tie into my Amazon account, I will try that way. Nope. Every time it complained that I needed to input a password that was clearly there. Just to make sure, I logged in and out of Amazon multiple times. I thought ‘Maybe it is the browser!’. Nope. Firefox (two different releases), Chrome, and Epiphany all failed. At this point I contacted the help chat line. They eventually got it working and they got me signed up, however, I couldn’t log in. So I reset my password. Then Amazon stopped working. So I reset my Amazon account. I had now completely wasted HOURS dealing with tech support and these log in issues and I needed to go. I went on another road trip _without_ the audio books I had been so excited for. I suspected the problem but it wasn’t until this morning that I actually tested and confirmed the problem.

Problem 2) Audible’s password log in is broken.

My Amazon account password is very complex, but Audible would never let me log in. I eventually figured out that my complex special character passwords were the reason. If I remove my special characters, Audible lets me log in. I have a 88* character password with upper and lower case letters, numbers, and a variety of special characters (I use an open source complex password generator called Universally Unique Password Generator it can be found on github). Amazon works just fine with the password. Audible does not. I am not going to change my password scheme for a broken website when Amazon works just fine. Changing my password every time to log into Audible then changing it back when I was done was an annoying process that I wasn’t going to put up with for long. Another hour wasted. At this point I had already decided that I probably wasn’t going to renew my membership with Audible. However, I still hadn’t had the chance to try their audiobooks and I had a free download credit. Maybe that would change my mind.

*[EDIT] I initially wrote this as 65. Sorry.

Problem 3) Linux support.

I don’t run anything but Linux. I have no need to do so. In this day and age, I so rarely encounter a problem under Linux that I almost forget there are still companies that don’t support Linux. The first audiobook I downloaded came in a format that I could not get to play. An Audible Audiobooks .aa format. They list multiple formats supported so I kept trying with the different options. Same problem. Nothing worked. Not even VLC or XBMC! Those two seemingly play everything I throw at them…except these stupid aa files. Fine, I will try another audiobook. Nope same problem. It is something on Audibles end.

I got no relevant results searching on Audible’s help section so I turned to the internet. Researching online and all I see is people with problems with Audible audiobooks under Linux. The suggestions that pop up the most are to run wine -or- copy to a mp3 player. Wine doesn’t help me on the road in my car and I am not very interested in burning hundreds of CD’s either. VERY ANNOYED I copied the files over to my iPod 5th gen (which I have managed through Linux for over 4 years and, thank God, I have not had to use iTunes in almost 5 years). The audio files /still/ do not play. At this point, this is the BIGGEST offender from Audible. I WILL NOT support a company that doesn’t support Linux and the end user. I returned the audiobook and canceled my membership.

DRM and proprietary formats just lost Audible a customer.

I *promise* you that /if/ I was the type to download a pirated copy of these books (which I am not going to do for my own personal reasons), the pirated copy would play when I want, how I want, where I want and on the device I want. I can also *promise* you that the pirated copy would NOT eat up hours of my life trying to get them to work. Audible.com just screwed over a legit, honest customer and promoted piracy as an easier alternative. Great job Audible.

Problem 4) They don’t even want to know why you canceled.

When I canceled, it took several clicks and drop down menus to tell them I was cancelling. The drop downs were pathetic pre-canned responses that didn’t fit my reasons hardly at all. Finally, on the last screen there was an option to explain why I canceled. Great. I honestly wanted to let audible know why I was canceling so I started to write out a brief summary of what I have posted here. Wait a minute…a 200 character limit on additional comments? Really? You won’t even give me the space to type out my complaints? Yet another fail. It is because of rubbish like this. A terrible terrible customer experience where Audible completely fails to live up to the expectations.

I was recommended to Audible through a promotion of a Revision3 series that I really like. I am glad Audible supports Revision3 and I wanted to support Audible because of that. However, I simply can’t. When *I buy* music, I expect those audio files to play when *I* want, where *I* want, how *I* want, and on the device *I* want. Give me an audio format I can listen to on *my* own terms, and I will probably come back.

Until then, I will buy the audiobook CD’s, rip them to *my* music player to listen to when *I* want, where *I* want, however *I* want, on the device *I* (Remember, the legit BUYER here!) want.

Now Audible has wasted another 3 hours of my life…





My very ownCloud

30 12 2011

A few days ago I was talking with someone about how frustrated I was with the current cloud providers. I mostly just disapprove of how badly my data is treated by the cloud providers. I am not a massive security zealot but I do try to be careful with my data. I have tried several different providers and I just am either not happy with their service or their policy agreements.

While stumbling around on the net in frustration trying to answer this question, I ran into http://owncloud.org/. I was very skeptical at first as it seemed like a very new project. I figured it was worth a try though.

As I prepared for the install (by reading all the docs I could find about the project), I got really super excited. I was going to toss it up on my virtual machine but I got so excited that I ended up doing the install to my ‘production’ system (well about as “production” as it gets for my personal home system…still I don’t like to muck it up). All went well and it was quite easy to get working really fast.

I uploaded a few files and enabled a few plugins and thought ‘Ok. Not perfect. But a decent start.’ As I poked around on the site I really began to like it.

Here is a run down of the plugins I am using.

Files:
Simple enough. You can create text files or directories and you can upload files. When I created a text file I was able to edit it with a basic editor that does most everything I need. I created a few directories and uploaded a few things. The download button worked for files but not for folders. The share button was nice as i could share with a person, group, or public. Most seemed to work as expected.

The only two things I really feel should be addressed are:
1) When uploading a file, all I see is a spinning icon. No display of progress or how much longer the upload will take.
2) It would be nice if I could upload a folder. I tried a few things but they didn’t seem to work. Uploading a file just works, but folders were not working.

Music:
I was surprised and delighted to see that after uploading a (legit!) music MP3 download in the Files section that the tracks appeared in the Music section. The player was working and everything seemed pretty good. The interface was a bit kludgy but it wasn’t hard to figure out. I decided to upload more music. A new album I got for Christmas. An album I ripped to FLAC (like I do all my CD’s). A good 90% of my music collection is in FLAC. The music player stopped working. It didn’t start working until I deleted all the FLAC files.

This was highly disappointing and in my opinon really needs to be addressed…

Contacts:
Simple interface. Handles all the contact information one would expect it to hold.

I do wish there was a notes section.

Calendar:
I set a few appointments/events and while it worked I don’t know how much I will end up using it. I am going to try to use it more because something seems off about it but I can’t place what. Maybe it is just me. But until I can figure out what is bothering me, I can’t write a just and descriptive review of it.

Gallery:
This didn’t seem to auto update after uploading files. Maybe it just had not had the chance to scan. However, a manual scan picked up the files. The preview pictures seemed to be only partial center portions of the image and as such the thumbnail view didn’t really show anything useful in the pics I uploaded. However, clicking on them brought up the full image and I was very please about how easy it was to navigate.

No comments on things to do here.

Bookmarks:
Basic bookmarking feature. Nothing too special. Works just as I expected it to. I found another webpost suggesting that I should be able to link my browser on KDE (Rekonq) to the bookmarks feature. I have not tried this yet, but if it does work that would be very nice as it would be my own bookmark sharing utility.

Over all I am very impressed and I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.





Computer show schwag

15 10 2011

I recently went to a big computer show and I ended up with the normal schwag. Pens, led flashlights, pens with led flashlights, and of course USB flash drives. In fact, I ended up with several flash drives from various vendors. I plugged one in and tried to copy some data to it, only to find that it was TERRIBLY slow. It really was painfully slow. That is why I decided to do some benchmark testing. Nothing too fancy, just the standard utility that ships with Ubuntu LTS 10.04.

System->Administration->Disk Utility

Now because I don’t want to seem too childish in whining about the results, I will not post the vendor names.

As a standard benchmark, a 5$ USB disk from Newegg.
Size 1GB
Max Read 20.1 MB/s
Avg Read 19.2 MB/s
Max Write 5.2 MB/s
Avg Write 4.1 MB/s

A vendor who sells SANs:
Size 1GB
Max Read 20 MB/s
Avg Read 18.6 MB/s
Max Write 5 MB/s
Avg Write 1.9 MB/s

A second vendor who sells SANS:
Size 1GB
Max Read 20.7 MB/s
Avg Read 18.7 MB/s
Max Write 2.8 MB/s
Avg Write 1.6 MB/s

A large enterprise-grade system vendor:
Size 1GB
Max Read 13.1 MB/s
Avg Read 12.3 MB/s
Max Write 3.4 MB/s
Avg Write 3.0 MB/s

A large desktop system vendor:
Size 4GB
Max Read 16.7 MB/s
Avg Read 14 MB/s
Max Write 2.3 MB/s
Avg Write 1.4 MB/s

A Linux vendor:
Size 2GB
Max Read 18 MB/s
Avg Read 16.3 MB/s
Max Write 3.2 MB/s
Avg Write 2 MB/s

A software company for supercomputing:
Size 2GB
Max Read 17 MB/s
Avg Read 12.7 MB/s
Max Write 2.7 MB/s
Avg Write 2.2 MB/s

I found it very interesting (and worthy of this post) simply because of the fact that these flash drives have such terrible write speeds. I understand that each company handed out 100’s of these flash drives and that 5$ each would add up quickly so they went for a much cheaper alternative. Still, it is rather annoying that the write speeds are so terrible. Especially on a 4GB drive. That is a decent amount of space for the files I carry around but at a max of 2.3MB/s transferring files to fill that would be roughly half an hour at peak speeds. Closer to an hour more than likely.

Then again, I really can’t complain too much. I did get a bunch of free flash drives that I am sure I can find a use for.

:-D

Thanks to all the vendors who gave me free schwag!





It’s been a while

10 10 2011

To those very few who read my blog, I apologize for the long absence. For several months I have been training to get my RHCE and I GOT IT!! WHOOHOO!!!

Anyway, I have been completely submerged with that project and basic day-to-day life and I have not had much of anything to post recently. Now that it is over (well till work sends me to the next round of RH training), I am finally getting around to working on some of my other projects. Hopefully I will be posting more about those as I go along.





OpenCL on AMD’s Zacate

10 10 2011

I bought a AMD Zacate E-350 with a Radeon HD 6310 video card. I have been doing some CUDA programming on an NVidia GTX460 and I was interested in AMD’s low-wattage alternative.

I am not the best at this but I have found it entertaining. I am a bit disappointed in the GPU and wished it was faster, however, I am really impressed at the speed of the dual core 1.6Ghz processor/Radeon 6310 considering how little power it draws.

I am doing this experiment on Ubuntu and ran into a few issues that I thought I would post here.

First, I downloaded and installed the latest ATI driver set. Second, I downloaded AMD’s Accelerated Parallel Processing (APP) SDK.

http://support.amd.com/us/gpudownload/Pages/index.aspx

http://developer.amd.com/sdks/AMDAPPSDK/downloads/Pages/default.aspx

I installed the drivers and made sure they were working. After that I extracted the files out of the SDK. AMD provides a install script that I ran with sudo privileges” `sudo Install-AMD-APP.sh`. This installed the SDK to /opt/AMDAPP and it added the PATH to /etc/profile. I had to install a few packages before I could get the samples to compile.

`sudo apt-get install libglew1.5-dev libglu1-mesa-dev libgl1-mesa-dev mesa-common-dev libdrm-dev libxau-dev libx11-dev build-essential make`

There may be more packages required. I tried to list the important ones, but I may have missed a few as I did an install of basic compilers before undertaking this OpenCL project.

Once all the tools were in place, I granted access to the /opt/AMDAPP for my user and started the compile process.

`sudo chmod -R user:user /opt/AMDAPP`
`cd /opt/AMDAPP`
`make`
`cd /opt/AMDAPP/samples/opencl/bin`

If everything compiled and worked out then all the sample binaries should be in that directory and should be executable.

If anyone has any comments or suggestions, please post below.

~Stack~





2 weekend “Non-Events” that made me love Linux even more.

31 05 2011

This morning at work a co-worker asked me how my weekend went and if I did anything interesting. My reply was a simple ‘Nothing much. Watched Science Fiction on TV and worked on computers.” It was rather non-eventful after all. “Oh yeah? What did you work on?” I had to think about this for a second. Most of what I did was so trivial that I didn’t remember right away. I read a few documents I had been meaning to do. Sorted and tagged the photos from the last vacation. Cleaned out my inbox of emails. Oh yeah! I also did two interesting projects.

Two things actually did happen to me over this past Memorial Day weekend. Two things that were such non-events that I almost didn’t remember I did them. Even after I remembered, it took a comparison between Linux and another OS before it hit me of just how big of a deal this actually was to me. Once the full realization of what I had done sunk in I knew right away that I love Linux and all the people who contribute to it just a little more then I had before.

Non-Event #1

I had a 64bit Debian Squeeze install. Nothing special on it, in fact it was a very stripped down install. This was primarily a “Repository Server” for me. It was my local mirror for Debian Lenny and Squeeze, Ubuntu 10.04, CentOS 5, and Scientific Linux 6. A big hard drive with a very little OS footprint. Well, it wasn’t on a battery backup because I didn’t care enough. We got hit with a brown out that blew the power supply. My bad luck comes in to play with the fact that the power supply is a special one that I don’t have a replacement for and to buy a replacement would cost as much as the computer originally cost me.

So what to do? Well I pulled the drive out, and plugged it into a less powerful spare box. Booted the box, and the only major change was that instead of my two network cards being eth0 and eth1, they were now eth2 and eth3. The rest of the system ran just fine. I made a few changes to the network card properties and as far the network/computer were concerned the box wasn’t any different. My scripts all continued to run, the other computers still used it for pulling updates, and every one went on doing their thing. A complete non-event.

What makes this special then?

Well it occurred to me that many years ago when I still had a Windows XP box and my motherboard died, I had tried to take my hard drive out and plug it into a new system. Not only did it not work, but it complained that I had invalidated my license key! I had to do a backup (with a Live Linux cd) followed by a re-install. A co-worker pointed out that when they tried doing it with Windows Vista, they got the logo with the scrolling bar and it would never boot any further. They too had to re-install. In fact, from everyone in my (albeit very limited) group no one could think of a time when they were able to do this successfully with Windows *without* using a 3rd party migration tool.

This is why it was a non-event to me that was so very special. My Linux swap had no licensing issues. There was no halted booting. There was no re-install of my OS and programs with near endless updates for the updates. There was no pain, no suffering, no gnashing of teeth, nor was there even a sign of a feint hint of a headache in the foreseeable future. That’s how easy it was. I just swapped the disk and had my server back up and running with nearly no downtime or incident!

I Love Linux.

Non-Event #2
My laptop runs an older version of Ubuntu (because I am too dang lazy to update…thats why). It has been behaving rather odd recently. I knew it was the hard drive because when things went really wrong I could hear it slam the arm against the drive and spin down just moments before the laptop would hang. I have been too lazy to upgrade, so that should tell you that I don’t care enough about this laptop to swap the hard drives. Well I fired up a program by clicking its GUI icon and nothing happened. Huh. Try it again. Nothing. Try it from the command line and it refused to run. The heck? So just for grins I tried to run it with gdb. Oh boy, was it not happy. Huh. It ran fine earlier this morning. A random thought made me check the md5sum of the file vs what it was supposed to be. It didn’t match. Great. So I ran badblocks and guess what? I had a BUNCH of them! Arg. I knew it was coming so I couldn’t blame anyone but myself.

I turned on MythTV and watched more Science Fiction shows while I pulled the 80GB drive out of my laptop. Using a laptop-2-USB adapter I plugged it into my main computer. I found a smaller 40GB laptop drive that was in great shape, and I plugged it into my main computer with another adapter. I inspected the bad drive and it seemed that all the problems were in the 10GB root partition. There were three partitions: root, a small swap, and the rest in the home partition. For some reason the big home partition didn’t register problems, yet.

Using dd with the “conv=noerror,sync” option (lots of bad sectors that dd had to replace with 0’s) I copied the root parition (10GB) to the 40GB drive. I created a small 2GB swap partition on the 40GB drive, and dumped the rest into /home. On the 80GB drive /home had most of the space but I was only using ~5GB. Therefore, I mounted the two /home partitions and rsynced the data with proper permissions (no errors were reported). I had to edit the /etc/fstab of the new drive to edit the UUID’s of the new swap and home partition but that was it. I slapped the new drive into the laptop and booted it up. No problems at all. However, I did still have bad sections of 0’s, remember? And these 0’s were in the midst of various programs which would cause plenty of problems. I ran debsums and sure enough several packages reported problems. I reinstalled those packages and re-ran debsums. All good!

In total with all the file transfers, it was only about 3 hours while my attention was mostly watching a Science Fiction show that was almost as un-memorable as the replacing of the drive. Now my laptop has a working hard drive in it and appears to be in great shape.

What makes this special then?

As I was discussing this with my co-workers we came up with several pitfalls had this been attempted under Windows.

First, Windows doesn’t have a separate partition capabilities for its ‘Documents and Settings’ aka /home information (at least none that we are aware of without using third party tools of which at least one of us has tried with little success). Therefore the separating of all the users files from system files would have been quite painful.

Second, while a dd of a windows drive would have worked it would have a) required a Linux box or live cd (but we may just not know of a Microsoft alternative though I am sure there are paid-for 3rd party tools) and b) would have required shrinking the NTFS partition to the smaller drive size before transferring. The shrinking of the file system *could* have resulted in _more_ corruption depending on how it was done.

Third, program installation and program file tracking in Windows is absolutely terrible. There is NO other way of saying that without resorting to foul and inappropriate language. Unfortunately that language is almost necessary to describe how terrible Windows is at tracking and installing programs. Microsoft just simply doesn’t have a good package manager (they don’t even have something that rates higher then terrible). Therefore, even after a partition transfer with bad sectors there would be no way to check all the files installed by various programs to determine which files/programs needed to be re-installed. A bit-by-bit copy would have been just as broken.

Fourth, as discussed earlier in Non-Event #1 transferring installs between computers can be a huge pain. Now in this case since all the hardware was the same except for the hard drive, hopefully one wouldn’t have problems. Still how many people have changed a few items in their computer and had to re-activate their Windows license? A quick Google search says A LOT! I am glad this threat doesn’t hang over me in the Linux world.

Since a bit-by-bit copy doesn’t seem to have very good chance of working in the Windows world (in this example), maybe a migration would work. However, we are not aware of a good Microsoft provided migration tool. You would have to install Windows to the new drive, then use a third party tool (which would probably cost even more money) to migrate your programs, files, and tools.

Since migration is iffy and going to cost more money, the only alternative that has any good chance of working without paying more money would be to do a complete re-install. A re-install that would take a LOT of time and effort with FAR too many updates of the updates of the updates. And that is just for Windows. After that you have to install all of your programs and transfer your files.

Regardless of how you manage to rebuild the Windows laptop, it is going to be painful. It is VERY doubtful it could have been done in the same time frame. Especially if one devotes time and attention to watching a movie (or should I say multiple movies with a Windows install). The only hope of doing it in that time frame is if you already have all the third party tools needed. Even if you could get it all copied, you still have ZERO ways of checking your programs to find out which ones got corrupted, much less a easy way of repairing those files. To put it bluntly, some one in this position is screwed.

I guarantee that *I* could not have done that much work and effort over something that should be so trivial and easy without going stabby-stabby on the laptop and/or the closest Windows developer I could find. Under Linux it was a non-event. It just worked. Nothing at all to get frustrated about.

Two non-events that took very little of my time. Two non-events that would have destroyed my weekend had I been a Windows user. My sincere thanks to all those who put their time and effort into Linux to make these non-events.

I Love Linux. It just works.





SL6 and Zabbix 1.8.5

9 05 2011

Someone pointed out to me that my post on compiling Zabbix on CentOS no longer works. Well to be honest, I have switched my CentOS systems to Scientific Linux 6 for a plethora of reasons (Short Story: a lot of the scientific packages we use at work are now being tested on SL6 by the various development groups where they are left up to the community on CentOS. So we jumped to SL6).

Nevertheless, I didn’t want to have bad information posted on my blog so I decided to update.

If you try to use my old post for compiling on SL6 or CentOS you end up with an error message like reader mailo got:
make[2]: Nothing to be done for `install-exec-am’.
make[2]: Nothing to be done for `install-data-am’.
make[2]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/redhat/BUILD/zabbix-1.8.5′
make[1]: Leaving directory `/usr/src/redhat/BUILD/zabbix-1.8.5′
+ install misc/conf/zabbix_agent.conf misc/conf/zabbix_agentd misc/conf/zabbix_agentd.conf misc/conf/zabbix_agentd.win.conf misc/conf/zabbix_server.conf misc/conf/zabbix_proxy.conf /var/tmp/zabbix-1.8.5-root/etc/zabbix
install: omitting directory `misc/conf/zabbix_agentd’
error: Bad exit status from /var/tmp/rpm-tmp.54232 (%install)
RPM build errors:
Bad exit status from /var/tmp/rpm-tmp.54232 (%install)

This is due to a new directory structure in misc/conf/zabbix_agentd. Lennart at Andrew Farley’s blog caught the fix.

Here are the steps to compile now.
1) Download the zabbix spec file into ~/rpmbuild/SPECS/

2) Edit the spec file
2a) Change line 6 from “Version: 1.8.3″ to “Version: 1.8.5″
2b) Change line 382 from “install misc/conf/zabbix_{a*,s*,p*} $RPM_BUILD_ROOT%{_sysconfdir}” to “install misc/conf/zabbix_{a*,s*,p*}.conf* $RPM_BUILD_ROOT%{_sysconfdir}”

3) Download Zabbix 1.8.5 from zabbix.com into ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES/

4) Download the patch file into ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES/

5) Build your RPMS!

So all together on the command line:
$ cd ~/rpmbuild/SPECS/
$ wget http://repo.andrewfarley.com/centos/specs/zabbix.spec
$ sed -e 's/1.8.3/1.8.5/' -i zabbix.spec
$ sed -e 's/p\*\}\ /p\*\}.conf\*\ /' -i zabbix.spec
$ cd ~/rpmbuild/SOURCES/
$ wget http://repo.andrewfarley.com/centos/specs/zabbix-centos-log-and-pid-paths.patch
$ wget (find download link from here)
$ cd ~/rpmbuild/SPECS/
$ rpmbuild -bb --target=`uname -m` zabbix.spec

That should be it! So far this is working for me. If I come across any other issues I will fix them here.

Once again, major props to Andrew. And props to Lennart for the fix.

[EDIT] Eric G built RPMs for 1.8.5 and 1.9.3 below in the comments. If you just want to install the RPMs instead of building from source you should be able to use his repo. Thanks Eric G!








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