Rendering The Apartment

June 30th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

Since we moved this month to a new apartment, where we finally have space for a decent amount of furniture, it’s time to solicit advice on how to arrange the furniture in our living room for maximum use of space. The bedroom takes no thought; the bed only fits one way, so that’s the way that it goes. The kitchen is just counters, so nothing goes in there. The living room, on the other hand is just one giant room, with a big fireplace and a huge window.

I decided to solicit advice from my mum, who is a professional interior designer, and pretty much the sort of person you’d want to give you advice on where to put the couch. The trouble was that it was hard to express what the living room looks like with just words or numbers alone. Drawing a floor plan might have worked, but it seemed to leave out an overall picture of the room. I’ve tried taking pictures of the room, but the lens that I have for my camera isn’t sufficiently wide-angle to capture enough of the room at once, making photographs lack enough context to make sense.

I decided this would be a good time to teach myself to use SketchUp, a free tool available from Google. It’s not geared towards interior design in particular, rather, it’s a general 3D modeling program, which Google bought to encourage users of Google Earth to model buildings and other objects in free space.

I’ve been very impressed with the ease of SketchUp to create a scale model of the room. I didn’t have to work through a long list of tutorials to start drawing; I could more or less dive right in and begin working on the living room. The interface is intelligent enough that you can work in three dimensions intuitively, without switching between 2D projections to ensure that the computer understands the plane that you’re trying to draw in. Rather than the sometimes-confusing X,Y,Z axes that can be non-intuitive for those not use to dealing with 3D coordinates, SketchUp’s three axes are just named colors: red, green, and blue. By default, your perspective is locked in the Y axis to simulate gravity, and keep you from rotating the model in a way that you couldn’t view it in actual space.

This is the result of my work so far. It’s far from complete, but it did a more-than-adequate job (I hope!) of showing the apartment in scale for furniture-arrangement purposes:

My drafting experience to date has been limited strictly to AutoCAD, which, while it’s the gold-standard, is such a complicated piece of software that I never felt that I was using it correctly, nor getting a particularly good result from my efforts. SketchUp, while a much more specific and limited application, fit this need pretty much perfectly.

I remember some years ago playing with AutoDesk 3D Studio Max, which remains the gold standard of 3D modeling. It was such an intimidating and massive piece of software that I got instantly lost and gave up. SketchUp doesn’t have anything like the power of 3ds Max, but it does do a remarkable job of making what was once a task limited strictly to those with technical training to the masses.

Sound Opinions

June 2nd, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I have to thank my good friend Pat for introducing me to Sound Opinions, in podcast form, from Chicago Public Radio and American Public Media.
It’s truly an outstanding show–a pop music criticism and anaylsis show that’s completely unpretentious. For example, in one recent show the hosts dissect the latest album from Death Cab for Cutie, followed directly by Usher’s newest offering. Both are done in an entertaining and interesting way, without a hint of derision.
If you haven’t heard it before, check them out at

Fedora 9 with an ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT

June 2nd, 2008 § 5 comments § permalink

I’ve drawn the short straw at work and I’m the guinea-pig who gets to install Fedora 9 before everyone else. It makes sense, really; I’m the new guy with a new computer and the least amount of user data that needs to be preserved. Like all new versions of a given distro, this one has some hiccups, especially on bleeding-edge hardware. I’ve spent a fair amount of time digging about to find solutions to the issues that I’ve encountered to date. This may be of use to others trying to install F9 on modern Dell hardware.

The biggest issue by far is the ATI Radeon XT graphics card that came with the machine. The Fedora installer auto-detects the card fine, but defaults to using the open-source “radeon” drivers. For older cards this isn’t usually an issue, but with the HD series of cards this is apparently a problem. During first boot, after the Red Hat Graphical Boot sequence is finished, the display will go fuzzy, then the system will crash completely, necessitating a hard reboot (if it doesn’t reboot by itself).

Usually, one can remedy the situation by installing the proprietary ATI drivers, either directly from the ATI site, or from a repository like livna. Unfortunately, the latest release of the ATI drivers doesn’t appear to be compatible with kernel 2.6.25 which ships with F9. I can think of 4 possible solutions:

  • Use the VESA driver for 2D-only support. This can be tricky to get running at the native resolution of larger displays, however. For laptops or smaller desktop machines, this will probably work fine until ATI releases a new version of the driver that works with kernel 2.6.25.
  • Use the open-source radeon driver that ships with F9 but turn off OpenGL Overlays. You’ll lose 3D acceleration, but your desktop will be working fine which is enough for most computing tasks. You can do this by applying this code to your xorg.conf, replacing the “Device” section (and replacing ‘Card0′ with whatever the card is called earlier in the config file):
    Section "Device"
        Identifier  "Card0"
        Driver      "radeon"
        Option "OpenGLOverlay" "Off"
        Option "VideoOverlay" "On"
        VendorName  "ATI Technologies Inc"
        BoardName   "Radeon HD 2400 XT"
        BusID       "PCI:1:0:0"
  • There’s an unofficial patch available for a slightly older version of the ATI driver here. This requires a little bit of kernel hacking, which if you’re not completely comfortable with, might put you off. The instructions given by the author, though, are quite verbose, although you’ll need some familiarity with patching the kernel to apply the fix.
  • Use one of the above 3 solutions until ATI releases a new driver which supports kernel 2.6.25. I think this is the way that I’m going for now, as I have no huge need for 3D acceleration and can afford to wait a few weeks for a new driver.

In order to apply any of these fixes at all, you’ll need to boot into single user mode and modify /etc/X11/xorg.conf. Append ‘single’ to the kernel line in GRUB before boot.

UPDATE August 27, 2008:
I’ve noticed that the computer continues to crash at boot time, even after disabling those extra features. Apparently, Red Hat Graphical Boot (rhgb) doesn’t respect xorg.conf and loads the bad drivers anyway, or in some fashion causes the crash. The solution is to disable rhgb by deleting the keyword rhgb from grub.conf. You’ll lose some prettiness at boot time, but that’s much nicer than the alternative.

Further reading:

Unofficial wiki for the ATI Linux Drivers: