Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “October, 2006”

Things are speeding up

Yesterday my dad heard it would take another 4 to 5 days before he would get his bypass. This morning the doctor told him he is scheduled to undergo surgery tomorrow afternoon. The whole procedure will somewhere between 3 and 5 hours.

Changes like this are an emotional rollercoaster in itself. You prepare yourself for one thing and then something else will happen. This also hit him hard, though he wants to get it over and done with. The rest of us try to manage and not add to the distress, but I noticed we are all a bit drained as well.

Tomorrow will be another wrenching day. We can do nothing but wait. The procedure is standard, but it is not an everyday thing for us.

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Dealing with disappointment

My dad went to get his minor heart surgery today. The idea was to open and widen the closed arteries that were affected. Unfortunately this did not work, which means he is now scheduled to get two bypasses and a pacemaker.
He was disappointed since he was looking forward to get this over and done with. Yesterday I noticed he was getting scared, something we expected to happen. His cardiac arrest came out of nowhere and caught him in the middle of his life. That’s scary. You feel fine one moment and have to be revived the next. The first week he was just glad to be alive, but at the moment he is growing scared to live again. Since we expected it to happen we are prepared for that. Live is just too precious to be hampered by fear.
The surgery is scheduled in the coming four or five days. Since he had to move to another hospital for the minor surgery it will take us a lot more time to visit him. A one hour drive. It’s no big deal, just a bit more planning.

Back to work

After three creative weeks, interspersed with an emotional rollercoaster, it is time to go back to the mundane. The office is calling and with it, the office politics, tight deadlines, disorganized departments and interorganizational rivalries. And to think I am merely working at a small non-profit organization dedicated to social care projects. In some respects it is not much different from profit organizations. Why? Well, I can only voice my opinion, but for most of my colleagues the workplace is all there is, the one place where they need to find value in life. For me it is way less important than that. I don’t think my job comes in the top five of priorities. Still I made a career that way. Maybe less steep than it would have been under other circumstances, but I really enjoy my life away from work. If only it would pay better. 😉

MacLinux, Novell Suse Style

Being back home there is time for a new experiment. My experience with Debian was mixed at best. The net-based install is great and simple. Debian is superfast on the iMac. However, two main problems in one week are a bit too much. First I could not boot into Linux anymore and later this week Gnome acted up. I like poblem-solving, but with the older applications under Debian Sarge I decided on a new experiment. A few months ago I downloaded Suse 10.1 PPC edition already (and completely forgotten it). Time to install it.

I have a soft spot for Suse , it being the first distro I ever installed. 7.2 it was and it impressed me. The books in the box served me well. Novell is doing a nice job with Suse as shown by SLED 10. I was curious about the PPC version.

YAST is a solid guide during install on the x86, but it did not do well on the iMac. Compared to the other tested distro’s, the partition editor was sloppy and only a manual setup led to the desired mulliboot setup. YAST also forgot to add Mac OS X to yaboot. I noticed it and added it manually during install.

X is a known problem by now. I still have to find the first distro that can set it up propely with the right parameters. Having solved the problem a couple of times already it is more a nuisance than a real issue.

As expected the online update did not work. It was one of the bigger problems with the 10.1 release. I just need to apply the proper fix. I installed the default Gnome desktop and added the complete KDE environment from the CD’s. Compared to Debian Suse is a bit slow. The entire install took me three hours, the longest so far. But, it was worth it.

The desktop is marvelous with a set of recent applications, that I could not get with Debian. I am happy to see Abiword 2.4 and Openoffice.org 2.x, which are a tad better than their predecessors. The rendering of the fonts is a joy for the eyes. The applications load relatively fast especially since the whole desktop feels somewhat slow (the iMac is a bit too old for Suse 10.1). The YAST module for installing software is very slow. It takes five minutes to build the software list, where Synaptic in Debian requires seconds.

Thanks to the fast loading applications Suse is fun to work with. 10.1 lacks the finishing of SLED 10, but you can see Novell’s hand in this version. For instance, the integration of GIMP in Abiword as a menu-item. And more of those small things.

How long will Suse last on my box? Well, I am downloading Fedora Core 6 at the moment, both for the x86 as for the PPC. Maybe… let’s give it a week.

Writing a Book: Day 18

It’s done. No, the book isn’t finished, not by a long shot. I now have drafts for all chapters I have to write including notes for materials missing. The structure is there. The majority of the descriptions are there.

Writing a Book: Day 16

Excellent progress with the part about office applications. With Abiword and NeoOffice under Mac OS X I had sufficient software fo quickly test out some features. There is still a lot do, but the blanks are mostly filled now. From here on it is a matter of expanding or descriptions and editing text and screen shots.

Writing a Book: Day 15

Despite the problems with Debian I could make some nice progress. Chapter 5 is a big chapter. Jos and I have divided the work, which leaves me with office applications and communication. Writing from a migration perspective is both easy and challenging. We can not deal with the software too deeply, but it shouldn’t be too superficial either.

Debian's Erratic Behavior

There are weeks when nothing seems to continue working. Like this week. Just before we left for a brief family visit, I found out that Debian would not boot anymore on the iMac. No kernel. I did not have the time to find out why so I reinstalled the whole thing.
Today I could work with Debian without a glitch, closed the iMac to go for a walk and restarted only to find a broken Gnome desktop and no ability to mount my USB drives. Fortunately I just finished all screenshots for the chapter and KDE is still functional, besides Mac OS X. It’s one of those weeks.

Writing a book: Day 13

Research, research and research. I did not produce a lot of words in the last few days. It mostly boiled down to finding and describing the solutions for smaller or larger (hence irritating) problems that hinder everyday use. And creating screenshots of course. The problem solving is good since it will find a way into the chapters. I always prefer to try things out myself. There are quite a few books about Ubuntu already and -together with the web-based information- there are plenty suggestions for problem solving. However, I never take those suggestions at face value. I try them out myself, see what is wrong (or right) and describe them as simple as possible.
One interesting problem that grudgingly wants to reveal it’s solution is using Microsoft Word under CrossOver Office and then access your documents from a shared folder on a Windows box in the network. The book’s projectleader is having this problem and we have been writing hence and forth about solutions. The problem is that Word under CrossOver Office opens your /home/user folder, but not much else. Using the network locations option made Word crash on my box.
Ubuntu is very easy when you want to browse to network shares (locations->network servers), but you can’t open documents in Word that way (nor in Abiword for that matter, OpenOffice.org seems to be handling that fine).
With SMB4K you can mount networkshares in /home/user/smb4k, but that involves installing a ton of KDE-based stuff which isn’t very friendly to the Gnome users. I find SMB4K not really easy to use and it takes some fiddling with the settings to finally get it working. Sort of. We are now at a point where the network folder is indeed mounted in /home/user/smb4k, but the folder remains empty. So this needs solving.
Another point that needs solving is mounting the networkshare at boot time. A quick search revealed quite a few posts about how troublesome this is under Ubuntu. I agree: mounting networkshares and working with documents from them with Word under CrossOver Office isn’t something an Ubuntu newbie would want to try, but it isn’t farfetched either. Time to dig deeper.
That digging will be done at the other side of the country. It’s also time to visit the in-laws. Luckily I can the iMac along (with the laptop still broken and not replaced it’s the most portable system) so the creative process will not be stalled. No Fashion TV to be my muze there, just the sound of chickens.

The Google Desktop

I always seem to find time to play with the computer, to test out new things. In the long run this habit causes an instable system and a lecture from Agnes about the time I spend behind the computer. She is right of course.
My recent project (small as it is) was signing up with all services that Google is providing. I had read the various articles about “Google now adding.. ” or “Google now has….”, but never really tried it. Signing up through the various offering is easy once you have a GMail account. From then on it is simple to create your own Google start page with links to the Google Desktop: documents, spreadsheets, notebook, creating HTML pages, chat, email, newsgroups, photoalbums and a weblog. Picasa gives the warning that it supports Windows only, but it is no problem to upload pictures to my album under Linux.

It is an interesting collection of web-based applications/tools, all accessible through one account and one password. Single sign-on all the way (except maybe for Blogger). The settings for each app/tool reveal functionalities that just beg to be tested. Like the ability to recieve notifications from your online calendar via SMS. I want to know whether it works and whether a price tag is involved (since I can hardly imagine it being free). The online help is not really helping since it states that it depends on the provider. “It could be free”. The Calender can be integrated in a personal website. Simple documents and spreadsheets can be created, shared and edited.

The Google Notebook is a fun little tool which embeds itself in Firefox. The right mouse button option to add text to your notebook only works when there is no other extension in FF claiming that (like Radial Context in my case). But the Add note button works just as well and this is great when surfing around and gathering information. The selected text is preserves as well as the hyperlink. You can create multiple notebooks for various projects.

Time to stop playing and start working again, but I can suggest you to Google Desktopping yourself.

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