Saturday, March 12, 2011

HOWTO Troubleshoot windows sound problems (for parents using google video chat)

The good people at google, have a nice parent-friendly intro to video chat. Unfortunately, getting to the point of having a gmail account with the plugin installed, is, in my experience, the easy part.

The bigger challenge is troubleshooting audio problems, and the google troubleshooting page doesn't offer much help, apart from a weird endorsement of Logitech products.  For the people I chat with, the problem is usually a muted microphone, and/or muted sound.  Instructions for modifying sound setup on Windows 7 are below.

Look at the bottom right corner of the screen for the speaker icon

Left click the speaker, and make sure the volume is turned up

Check if that solves the problem.  If not, right click the speaker and choose playback devices

Click Properties

and check the slider is turned up on the Levels tab.

Click OK, and get out to the desktop.
Right click on the speaker again to check your microphone.  Click recording devices.
 The green bar should move up and down as it registers sound.  Try talking.

If that all looks OK, google provides an interface for you to check your settings from within gmail.  
Login and click on the settings link on the top right corner

Then click on the chat tab

and on the + sign next to "Verify your settings".

If you answer 'Yes' to all three questions in that box, and you still don't have working audio or video, you can tell the person on the other side that it is a problem on their end, and point them to these instructions :)

HOWTO Create multiple chrome and firefox profiles on linux

I like using multiple browser profiles for security reasons. I keep my valuable cookies, such as those for email etc. in one profile, and do regular web-browsing in another. This means if I hit a XSS through regular browsing, the scope for cookie stealing is limited. When using firefox with the noscript plugin it also makes sense to have different whitelists for these two usage scenarios.

Creating firefox profiles is simple, just use the profile manager, which you can bring up with:
firefox --no-remote -P

Once you have created the profile, I copy the shortcut icon and change the target to point at the new profile like this:
firefox %u --no-remote -P browse

Chrome is almost as easy, but the doco can be a little harder to find. You just need to specify a new user data directory like this:

/usr/lib/chromium-browser/chromium-browser --enable-udd-profiles --user-data-dir=.config/google-chrome/Browse

and change your shortcut icon to run the same command.

On Ubuntu natty and oneiric this got harder with the new launcher. There are a lot of ways to get it done, but this seemed the simplest to me:
sudo apt-get install alacarte gnome-panel
  • Start "Main Menu" by searching for it in the dash.
  • Add an item for your application and close the editor.
  • Logout to refresh the dash (there must be a way to do this without a logout, but not sure what it is).
  • Start the application by searching for it in the dash.
  • Right-click on the icon and "Keep in launcher"

I also created a couple of (ugly) custom icons to keep my 'Browse' and 'Mail' profiles clearly marked.