Setting up an external monitor to work with Ubuntu (Oneiric/11.10)

Summary: This post details a relatively simple way I got my external monitor (ASUS VH242H) to work with Ubuntu-powered notebook (HP dv7-3080us). Check out my xorg.conf or see the gallery of images if you are having trouble getting your setup to work.

Update: A video of the experience has been uploaded to my YouTube channel! Did you know I had one? [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxpQkEB3bSk]

I started my new year with a sick husband and installing Ubuntu 11.10 on my notebook. This isn’t my first time around this OS-switching rodeo but this time, there is more than just curiosity driving my switch i.e. *cough*grades*cough*. I’ve never really gone “all the way” with the Linux distributions I’ve tried for a host of reasons but with each version of my favorite distro (Ubuntu), a lot of my reasons for not staying have evaporated. One of those things is a pain-free external monitor setup. Well, I am here to report that, with a little trial-and-error, I now have my external monitor connected to my laptop!

Here are the steps I took to get my external monitor working on my Ubuntu laptop:

First, backup your xorg.conf file by typing this command into your terminal:
sudo cp /etc/X11/xorg.conf /etc/X11/xorg.bak{add-a-date}. That way, if you accidentally screw things up, you can go back to a working xorg configuration file.

Next, connect your external monitor with the HDMI cable (I guess you can use whatever cord you have but I don’t know if these same instructions will apply). At your terminal prompt, type: sudo nvidia-settings. Ignore the bunch of messagesyou’ll get in the terminal.

Click “Detect Displays” and your new monitor should show up as “Disabled”. Then, click on the discovered monitor and select “TwinView”. Your screen should temporarily flicker and/or display garbled output. You will be prompted to save your new settings (save them). Click on “Save to X Configuration File” and back this configuration up like in step 1.

NVIDIA-X-Server-Settings_Laptop-Monitor-with-Disabled-monitor
Settings after Ubuntu detects the external monitor
Nvidia X Server Setting for Disabled Monitor
Nvidia X Server Setting for Disabled Monitor

You may have noticed that before you added the external monitor, your laptop’s monitor configuration was set to “Separate X Server”. However, after adding the new monitor and saving the new configuration, my laptop’s monitor was automatically set to TwinView as well.

Open terminal again (Ctrl-Alt-T) and type sudo nvidia-settings again to get back in to the Nvidia X Server Settings application. The formerly disabled monitor should now display the max. resolution of the new monitor. Click on the new monitor and make sure TwinView is still the configuration selection for both monitors.

NVIDIA X Server Settings Laptop Monitor
New X Server settings for the laptop monitor
New settings for the external monitor

Click on the rectangle representing your laptop monitor and confirm that the position for your laptop monitor is now “Absolute” with the value of “+0+0”. Then, click on the newly added monitor’s rectangle and make sure that the position for that monitor is what you want it to be i.e. to the right of your laptop monitor, to the left, etc.

I’m a bit leery of messing around too much with my Nvidia X Server settings but I’m glad I finally discovered a combination that works for my laptop + external monitor set up (even after rebooting :)). Check out my current xorg.conf file on Pastebin.

Now for the bad part, if you are like me and tried other options like Separate X server or whatnot, be prepared to restart your computer to find your computer unusable i.e. graphics gone wild. The good news is since the problems were brought about by editing xorg.conf, if you have a backup of xorg.conf that works, you can simply drop to the text console instead of graphically logging in. Then, you can overwrite the bad xorg.conf. I believe the command to drop to the text console is: Ctrl-Alt-F2.

Let me know your experiences and workarounds to getting an external monitor setup in the comments!

Outsourcing Customer Service

Global response website screenshot
Screenshot of Global Response's website

One thing I haven’t shared too publicly is that I worked as a part-time customer service agent for a telemarketing firm. It was a departure for any of the previous jobs I’ve held but I now hold a deeper appreciation for the work that telemarketers do. So, what has precipitated this change of subject matter?  Several weeks ago, I was contacted about a nice lady (hi Lynn! 🙂 ) about advertising on my site. (Yes, I accept advertising on this site. Hit me up!) I was (a) flattered at the attention and (b) intrigued because of my former job & just how big and surprisingly effective Global Response’s call center outsourcingis.

What Does Global Response Do?

The Global Response  is a “3rd party outsourcing Catalog sales, Customer service and fulfillment.”

In plain English, that means companies like JC Penney, Puma, National Geographic, Blue Cross Blue Shield, David’s Bridal, MoMA, etc hire Global Response to handle things like customer service, sales, etc.

One of Global Response’s services is the provision of inbound call center services. An example of this could be if you’re having trouble buying an item on a website and there is a 1-800 number to call, chances are good that the party/person that picks up is a customer service agent working for a call center i.e. a center like Global Response. You know how you have to call a 1-8xx number to active your debit or credit card? Chances are you are calling into a call center much like Global Response. When you have trouble watching Netflix and that 1-866 number appears on the screen, Netflix can choose to hire people to handle those calls (in-house) or use an outfit much like Global Response (outsourcing). It is becoming increasingly popular for companies to outsource customer service to professional telemarketing organizations than handle them in-house.

In addition to providing customer service, they have fulfillment centers which means they help their clients with storing, selling and shipping goods to their clients’ customers. They also provide outbound calling services, one of the more recognizable duties of telemarketing agents. Global Response is able to be effective in their outbound calling services by providing training & quality assurance which is (to be fair) standard at call centers worth their salt.

In learning more about Global Response, I was really impressed at their client roster, case studies of their customers and their social media savvy. Let me count the ways:

  • Their website stands heads & shoulders above other call centers. The site is designed to be modern, loads fast and even makes use of simple & “pretty” URLs.
  • They put up case studies on their site which is something I haven’t seen on the other competitors that I’m used to. I like to read testimonials and these case studies provide prospective business some level of comfort that Global Response doesn’t trade in BS.
  • The first search I did was “Global Response call center sucks” and I was relieved to find that there weren’t any major negative issues either with clients or employees. Like my (former) employer does, they pay their employees weekly and here are 2 employee reviews of Global Response which are largely positive.
  • They have a blog written by several employees (David Cogan, Shane Slack, Bill Erickson, etc) which they use to put a personal touch on their company’s duties.
  • Contact information is prominently displayed on all pages of their site;

Global Response isn’t perfect; I did discover a typo on their site. 😛 Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed and while I haven’t had the pleasure of speaking with a Global Response call center agent, I’m fine with drawing attention to what appears to be a well-oiled operation that Global Response runs. Visit the Global Response website at http://www.globalresponse.com/

Disclosure: I was compensated for writing about Global Response.

Why I Haven’t Rooted My Motorola Atrix

TL;DR – I haven’t needed to because the Atrix (custom Android skin – MOTOBLUR, generous specs, warts and all) is quite capable for me as a ‘regular’ user. Sys admins, serious tinkerers and people who yearn for a plain vanilla Android experience are probably not the target for this article. If you are in the market for an Android phone, I urge you to do your research and not leap for the cheapest deal.

My first exposure to Android was a rooted T-Mobile G1 I got off Craigslist in July, 2010. The performance on that phone was abysmal and it would be close to 7 months (& an ill-advised foray into Symbian with the Nokia N8 in October 2010) before I found a powerful phone that, for once, I didn’t need to fool around with to work. Not because I’m consciously avoiding or overlooking problems, but because this particular phone is great for my needs.

My two main reasons for not rooting are:

  1. I have found nearly everything (apps) I need via the Android Market. Thanks to the apps on the Android Market, my phone nicely complements for my computer (really, things I use my computer for e.g. heavy browsing, Facebook/Twitter/News, sharing, etc). My bank has an Android app with which I can check my account balance or transfer money between my accounts or send money to another customer. For reading, I’ve got FBReader, Adobe Reader, Aldiko Premium and QuickOffice installed. Document creation is covered thanks to QuickOffice Premium & Google Docs and there are more apps for sharing (photos, text, video, etc) than I can count.

    Amazon has an Appstore which, before the Gingerbread update, was unavailable because Motorola removed the option to install software from unknown sources. Now, that option is available on the Atrix with the Gingerbread update.

  2. Performance on the Atrix has been great. Apps are snappy to use and with Gingerbread, the Atrix is more stable than ever. This point is relevant because many articles proclaiming the advantages of rooting tout the fact that you can install performance management apps or task managers and whatnot. The Atrix ships with a task manager but I can count the number of times that I have used it in the 4 or so months I’ve had the Atrix. In fact, the Atrix *also* ships with a battery manager app. I think my point is: doing your research and betting on a powerful phone is a good way to make sure you won’t need to worry about task managers or performance tweaks. I was able to uninstall many of the ATT pre-installed apps on the Atrix.

In researching online for the top/recommended apps for rooted phones, I’ve found several reasons for rooting phones but none compelling enough to make me up & root. Well, that and I haven’t found a solid unrooting procedure yet for the Atrix. 🙂

  • Full system backups of your phone e.g. using Titanium Backup. This comes in handy for backing up data from saved games, system files, etc. However, even when I had a rooted phone, I found that I didn’t really use this feature except to upgrade the custom ROM. Thankfully, the loss of this feature on my unrooted Atrix is mitigated by the fact that if you wipe your phone and you’ve elected to back up your data to Google’s servers, you can have your data (contacts, calendar, etc) restored when you reinstall. Right now, I also have Lookout Premium which also backs up photos, call history (Pssst, check your cellphone provider statements for this also) and contact details for me.
  • System tweaks like overclocking, louder volume hacks, battery conservation apps, etc. This is where doing your due diligence like testing the phones in stores, reading online reviews particularly on sites like Amazon and honestly assessing your uses for a smart phone comes in really handy. Again, I strongly recommend *against* picking an Android phone simply because it’s $1 or free with your 2 year contract. <rant>I blame manufacturers for churning out turds and then, I get to read articles about how someone’s mom’s Android phone sucked so she got an iPhone.</rant> 🙂 With my kick-ass phone, the Motorola Atrix, which I have no problem pimping & promoting (sans sponsorship from the folks at Motorola), I have never strongly considered rooting because despite howls of how MOTOBLUR sucks, MOTOBLUR is actually … not bad. Is it because I don’t have an alternative (which admittedly rooting could cure) or because MOTOBLUR actually works? I’d wager that it’s the latter based on my experiences but it’s just a matter of taste. A quick trip to the store should give you a feel for the UI on the Atrix. I mean, ATT’s pre-installed apps can actually be uninstalled! Yes, I’ve kvetched about the Atrix’s somewhat beta feel but I’m greatly heartened by the Gingerbread update which makes the Atrix feel like a brand new device. Battery life on the Atrix is ~ 4 hrs which kinda stinks but I’ve become conditioned to automatically plug my phone into my computer when I’m on the internet or just leave it on the wall charger.
  • System tools like setCPU, root explorer, etc. If you know what these things mean and you need them, root, root, root. 🙂 BUT going back to my key point about honestly assessing one’s smartphone usage, I haven’t graduated the halls of geekdom yet to even begin to appreciate these apps or why I need them.
  • Tethering and Screen Capture (screenshot or video recording): These features are arguably the biggest draws of rooting. For me, I care about hassle-free screen capture but I’ve resigned myself to going the route of installing the Android SDK tools and connecting my phone to my notebook to get a screenshot of my phone. I purchased a “No root” screenshot app from the Android market, but the instructions for getting the app working did not work for my Atrix. However, feel free to check that app out. Then, for recording your Android phone’s screen, there is the Droid VNC server (beta). Regarding tethering, please note that ATT is also cracking down on unauthorized tethering. Besides, where I live, many stores offer free WiFi so unless I happen to be in a developing country with limited internet access, this might be an issue.
  • Custom ROMs: For those yearning for Android’s “true” face, CyanogenMod is the gold standard in custom ROMs for Android. Most manufacturers add their own flavors to the Android User Interface. The best way to find out if you can live with a manufacturer’s spin on a phone you’ve been eyeing is to actually use the phone or watch videos of the device in action. My only experience with CyanogenMod was on the Google G1 and now, I’ve graduated to the Motorola Atrix. It would be unfair to compare the two but so far, I’m not complaining about MOTOBLUR. I do hate that my home screens are fixed in portrait orientation (pour quoi, Motorola?) but it’s not a deal breaker.
  • Apps from non-Market Sources: Stock android has a neat feature which allows you to install apps from “Unknown sources”. which simply means if an app isn’t in the Android market, you can still install it on your phone. Depending on the manufacturer of your Android phone, you may not have this option available. This was true of the Motorola Atrix until the latest Gingerbread update. Please don’t go crazy downloading random apps from the internet.