Ubuntu — not ready for primetime

I wanted to install Ubuntu on my Dell XPS 15 to try out Steam for Linux. This was not the enjoyable experience I had hoped for since a lot of things did not work perfectly out of the box. Below are some steps I had to take to get the system going.

Fixing the graphics

My laptop has NVIDIA optimus technology which automatically switches between Intel’s HD 4000 graphics card and the faster NVIDIA Geforce GFX 640. Apparently, optimus support on Linux is not good.

In Ubuntu, I had no 3D support and the graphics would spontanously turn off after a restart so I was presented with only the terminal. Fortunately, there are some nice people that are maintaining a project called Bumblebee which adds support for optimus in Linux. After installing this, my graphics system has been fairly stable. Just do this:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bumblebee/stable
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-x-swat/x-updates
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install bumblebee bumblebee-nvidia linux-headers-generic

I also recommend the primusrun package:

sudo apt-get install primus

With the above installed, it is possible to run programs specifically with the NVIDIA card like so:

optirun glxspheres
primusrun glxspheres

Fixing the mouse

Yes, the mouse did not work. Well, the touchpad worked but my wireless Logitech M705 mouse did not. The problem, it turned out, was the Logitech Unifying Receiver. It is a small USB thing that is plugged in for a mouse and external keyboard and is used for many Logitech devices. After searching for many hours, somewhere on some forum, I found the following simple command-line trick:

while :; do dmesg|grep logitech-djreceiver|tail -1|grep -q -c "failed with error -32" || exit; echo -n `date`" Driver Reload" ; rmmod hid_logitech_dj ; modprobe hid_logitech_dj ; dmesg|grep logitech-djreceiver|tail -1 ; sleep 1; done

You can also find it as a github gist here.

The script simply tries to reload the receiver with modprobe and it works. Sometimes after one loop, sometimes after ten. And it is a pain in the ass to run it at every startup.

Getting Steam to work

The real reason I wanted to try Ubuntu again was the recently released Steam for Linux client. After installing Bumblebee, Steam actually installed and ran quite well. However, it is worth taking a look at this guide for running programs with optirun/primusrun.


In the above, I left out the fact that before finding the solutions, I had to reinstall Ubuntu three times because of playing around with graphics drivers that broke the system until finally figuring out about the Bumblebee project. This is definitely something most users would not want to mess around with. Not only that but my mouse is still not working after a restart and sometimes I am still greated with the terminal login instead of a graphics login. It is quite random, actually.

I should also note that I have had similar experiences with Ubuntu in the past. I love Linux but it just does not work like Windows or Mac. As soon as you are faced with a weird hardware problem, good luck fixing that without the command-line!

Therefore, I have to recommend not installing Ubuntu at the current time — at least if you have dual graphics card with optimus technology or you are not willing to spend hours trying to fix things. It is a big shame because the Linux platform and Ubuntu in particular shows great promise. But it is not for everyone. It is not ready for primetime.

An SMTP server for testing

Today I needed to send some test emails from my application and I searched around for a very simple SMTP server that can save outgoing emails to a folder instead of actually sending them. This is nice for debugging and testing email functionality in an application.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find something useful. In the end, I found a very simple script that did the trick. I forked it and added some command-line options so now I can easily run a simple SMTP server on my development computer in Linux, like this:

dummy_smtp.py -p 8081

In case you were wondering, this works really well with the Google App Engine mail API. Simply run the development server like this:

dev_appserver.py --smtp_host=localhost --smtp_port=8081

The source code for the server is right here:

Creating a Shopify plugin

This post is about Antecons, a product recommendation engine, now part of Conversio. Antecons is no longer commercially available, but I have kept my developer diary on my website with permission.

In the last post about Antecons, I wrote about frequent patterns and MapReduce. Since then, this base functionality has been tweaked to work a little better but the main focus has been on creating the first plugin for Antecons: A Shopify app.

I have previously mentioned that it is important to me that Antecons can be easy to set up. Although focusing on the API initially was a great way to get started, it has become clear after some thought that the reach is limited if the entire product is just an API from the beginning. So I have begun implementing a plugin (or an app as they call it) for Shopify. There are two reasons for choosing Shopify as the first integrated platform for Antecons:

  1. It is easy to get started with app development on Shopify and their API is quite extensive.
  2. Shopify was simply something I knew before-hand so I did not need to research other options too much.

So far, it has been a good experience working with the Shopify API. Integrating with Python/Google App Engine was very easy thanks to their open source API bindings for python.

The Shopify app for Antecons is not finished yet or at least, I do not consider it in a state where I can release it. However, it is in state where it installs correctly and delivers recommendations to the webshop it is installed on. Instead of writing a lot about that, below are some screenshots that show the functionality. The suggestions by Antecons are the little “You might also like” products.

Antecons installation start
Antecons installation start
Antecons app authentication
Antecons app authentication
Antecons installed
Antecons installed
Product page suggestion
Product page suggestion
Cart page suggestion
Cart page suggestion