Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “March, 2007”

New avenues

Good news. My good friend Jos Herni is expanding the reach of his website Digiplace. He is into Linux for way longer than I am and his website is great resource for people who want to find real life solutions for problems end-users face. He loves Ubuntu and designates himself as a “Gnomer”.

His website has reached the point that he can expand, both in content (hardware, serverbased solutions using Linux and desktop use of Linux) and in his team. Jos and I got to know eachother about a year ago and now he gave me a nice place in his team and on Digiplace: as a writer of opinion pieces. You can find a direct link at the top of this page, though you need to master Dutch to benefit from it.

Some people said to me that I talk like I am on a soapbox. Well, Jos gave me a digital soapbox to use to my hearts delight. Better close your ears 😉

Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Digiplace

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Alienising my laptop

I used my laptop to write the annual report for the organisation I work for. And -since I had to be online constantly- I had to write it under Windows. See, I can not get the wifi running, not even with the Feisty beta. No problem, I checked online and my laptop is on the not-supported list. It’s not a Linux problem, it’s a hardware problem.

But when you work with Windows XP and use the default desktop you just get the urge to want to change it, to make it look more snappy. In my case, that also means not spending any money on it. The guys from Alienware came the rescue. On their website you can dowload a nice package with a few Alien themes, the AlienGUIse Theme Manager. That was an improvement, but not enough. My desktop was littered with icons and shortcuts. Most went to /dev/null and for the others I made a new taskbar at the top of the screen. Add a snazzy wall paper and a nice theme for Firefox and XP started to look nice.

One big problem! When I went back to my default Ubuntu desktop, the decent Human theme, it was a bit…. How do I put it nicely? Boring. But to work with Linux is to customize, right? It was time for a visit to the Gnome Look website. Searching for dark themes and alien-like themes was easy enough and I downloaded a number of candidates. I think the biggest package was about 800 Kb, but the others hovered around 100 Kb. Way smaller than the multimegabyte AlienGUIse package.

Installing the packages was as simple as opening the Gnome Theme Manager and dropping them there. After that I tinkered with the settings, found myself another snappy wallpaper and enabled the desktop effects that come with Feisty.

Is this practical? Of course not. It is way too dark and you don’t want to spend hours and hours working on these desktops. Besides, I need the default Human Theme for all the screenshots in the book. The Windows XP desktop is not practical because it becomes too bloated, taking up precious resources. Adding AlienGUIse didn’t make my previous XP boxes any more stable now that I recall. For Ubuntu it didn’t change a thing performance wise. It’s still fast.

Now let’s see what else I can find on the Gnome Look pages.

Tags: Ubuntu, Windows, Gnome

Changing the look of Wine

One of the nicer things of Linux is that you have tons of thinkerers around. One of my online buddies who goes by the nick of Tripl showed this solution to change the default look of Wine (simply horrible) into the human theme of Ubuntu.

All the text bellow needs to be pasted bellow the line above in ~/.wine/user.reg that is your home directory .wine folder
“ActiveBorder”=”239 235 231”
“ActiveTitle”=”239 235 231”
“AppWorkSpace”=”198 198 191”
“Background”=”93 77 52”
“ButtonAlternativeFace”=”200 0 0”
“ButtonDkShadow”=”85 85 82”
“ButtonFace”=”239 235 231”
“ButtonHilight”=”255 255 255”
“ButtonLight”=”255 255 255”
“ButtonShadow”=”198 198 191”
“ButtonText”=”0 0 0”
“GradientActiveTitle”=”239 235 231”
“GradientInactiveTitle”=”239 235 231”
“GrayText”=”198 198 191”
“Hilight”=”247 203 135”
“HilightText”=”0 0 0”
“InactiveBorder”=”239 235 231”
“InactiveTitle”=”239 235 231”
“InactiveTitleText”=”255 255 255”
“InfoText”=”0 0 0”
“InfoWindow”=”200 0 0”
“Menu”=”239 235 231”
“MenuBar”=”0 0 0”
“MenuHilight”=”247 203 135”
“MenuText”=”0 0 0”
“Scrollbar”=”239 235 231”
“TitleText”=”255 255 255”
“Window”=”255 255 255”
“WindowFrame”=”0 0 0”
“WindowText”=”0 0 0”

Now I wonder…. could someone do this for Picasa as well?

Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Wine

"But I use…."

Doesn’t it annoy you as well? In a forum or on an IRC channel someone asks a question about a program in Linux. “How do I change the settings in xorg.conf? “. The answer is swift. “Open a terminal and type $ sudo gedit /etc/xorg.conf and….”. After that it is a matter of time and someone will say: “Why do you use gedit for this. I use nano. Much better.”

Next example. A user has a problem with adding podcasts to Rythmbox. Instead of helping he or she will get a list of alternative programs that are much better.

Another one. You try to explain the innards of GRUB to newbie users and -you could wait for it- there he is: “But I use lilo…”.

What is wrong with all of these responses? Answer: they don’t do a darn thing to bring the solution any closer. Is there really a difference between gEdit and nano for a simple editing? Why is Amarok better than Rythmbox? No no, I don’t want to go there. Linux is about choice and for every application there is at least one alternative.  The issue is that if someone has a question about Rythmbox the answer should focus on Rythmbox as well.

Personally, I am a complete agnostic when it comes to applications. I consider all of them like a huge toolbox and I pick whatever I need to complete a task. I use Amarok because I want to listen to Last.FM and there is no Last.FM client for Dapper (last time I checked) and I like the link to Wikipedia for some extra artist information. However, I use XMMS to listen to my congregation’s public talks or to any station that is available through StreamTuner. I also use XMMS to listen to my Tangerine Tree collection (a series of legal bootlegs from Tangerine Dream concerts), because they are in a lossless format called “shorten” and I only found a .SHN plugin for XMMS.  And that is just for music.

When it comes to writing text I alternate between gEdit, Abiword, OpenOffice.org Writer and Microsoft Word (yes, under Linux). Webbrowsing? Firefox, Swiftfox and Opera. Spreadsheets? Gnumeric and Excel.

To take it one step further: I hardly care about the operating system anymore. There are so many cross-platform applications that in day to day use there is no difference between Mac OSX, Windows XP, Ubuntu Linux or Windows Mobile 2003. As long as I can share my files between all of them I am a happy man.

That is why I am not impressed when a response to a question about management tools in distro A gets an answer like “But I use distro B, because their tools are much better”. There is no one size fits all. Why do you think people keep thinkering with their Windows boxes?

My point: when users ask a question on solving a problem with a specific applications or function, they have the right to get an answer that is more helpful than the “but I use…” nonsense. Most of the times it is a matter of taste anyway.

Tags: Linux

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn beta already

As I wrote in a previous post it is fascinating to see the speed of development. It sometimes feels I have to download updates on a daily basis.

With three weeks to go Feisty Fawn has been released as beta. There are a few tools that are new, like the Migration tool that helps you to move some personal information away from you Windows desktop and a new partition manager. Nice….

You can get it here.

Tags: Ubuntu

Focus: GnomeSword2

If you have a KDE-based program for Bible study, there is -no doubt- a Gnome counterpart for it as well. Indeed, next to BibleTime you have GnomeSword2. The default install of GnomeSword comes with the King James bible, Matthew Henry’s and Naves Dictionary.

The default screen has a five pane layout with the library to the left and then the Bible translation you use (top left) with the possibility for a standard view or parallel view, the commentary (top right), the dictionary (bottom right) and a preview pane (bottom left). The top two screens synchronize instantly and automatically. The interface is a lot cleaner than BibleTime’s, but that is no doubt due to the difference in interface philosophies. The options are just more visible with BibleTime. One nice possibility in GnomeSword is the use of Tabs, which means you can open various sets of Bible translations and commentaries at the same time without cluttering your screen.

To install additional translations and commentaries you need to open the Module Manager and select each item separately. BibleTime allowed you to choose either the language set as a whole or just separate publications. With GnomeSword this is much more tedious. Gnomesword also uses the Crosswire remote server for the modules. The programs suffers therefore from the same problem as BibleTime: it uses abbreviations known to the incrowd.

Personally I would like both programs to improve somewhat and taking the best from the both of them. BibleTime is somewhat more flexible and makes it easier to install larger subsets of modules. GnomeSword2 has a cleaner and somewhat faster interface. Both should focus more on making Bible study more attractive by at least using the full names of the publications and skip the abbreviations.

Tags: Ubuntu, GnomeSword

Focus: BibleTime

I see dozens of programs these days. Writing a book on Ubuntu and more specifically the applications that are available forces me to look into them. I have been using Windows and Windows based programs for more than a decade, so that is always a logical point of reference.

A program that won’t make it into the book is BibleTime. Partly because we only have so much space to fill and partly because it is interesting for a small group of potential readers. Not to say there is no interest in this kind of niche. There is an Ubuntu version out there that caters to the needs of christians and last thing I heard there was a islamic version as well.

BibleTime is a Bible study program. I have used a few of these under Windows, but found them mostly cumbersome. They were memory hogs and the interface was unappealing and clunky. The amount of available information was astounding however, but one program did not differ greatly from the other. They all used the vast resources that are available in the public domain. One thing was highly annoying: adding most of those resources to the program, one by one. I was curious how the open source program would do against that.

BibleTime is a KDE based program, so installing that one on a clean Ubuntu will definitely bring up some dependencies as well. When you start the program up for the first time you are given the opportunity to install the resource files. The list of languages, bibles and publications is impressive. Nothing new but impressive nonetheless. The Dutch are limited to the Statenvertaling only since all the other Bible translations are not in the public domain. Anyway, you can tick of all the books you like and BibleTime installs them from it’s own FTP server. There is a warning for those folks out there that live in countries where the possession of a Bible is illegal. From then on it is a matter of waiting untill your bookshelf is filled. Major improvement.

From then on you are free to use the software and when you are used to the Windows based programs there is nothing surprising here. The left pane contains the bookshelf and the main screen is your run of the mill multipane setup. Every publication you open gets it’s own pane. With a click on the right button all panes synchronize when you go from scripture to scripture. I tried a few searches of phrases I new should be in either the bible version or the commentaries, but they turned up empty. What I didn’t like is that the bookshelf doesn’t use the full names of the publications and Bible versions. Insiders know the the meaning of MHC or ASV, but more casual reseachers wouldn’t mind to see Matthew Henry’s Commentary or American Standard Version as default. The speed of the program was fine, way better than the Windows-based counterparts.

In conclusion, BibleTime provides a decent interface to public domain bible study publications with a very easy process to add new publications to your library. What it shares with it’s closed source ‘brethren’ is the other side of making things accessible. You have to make it appealing to start digging through it all. The screen layout should be inviting for non-scholars. The scholars are well taken care of, but shouldn’t it be the purpose to reach the non-scholars? At least, that was the group Jesus mainly ministered to.

Tags: Ubuntu, Linux, BibleTime

Appreciation: Following the growth of Feisty Fawn

This is the first time as a Linux user that I followed the development of a new distribution release from Alpha to Gold. Feisty Fawn isn’t gold yet, but it is fascinating to see how it matures over the months. I just finished another major upload and I am impressed by the sheer number of updated packages. When you go from final release to final release all those changes are there as well, but you don’t see them as clearly.

Yes, I can be very critical at times about the development of Linux for desktop users and it is easy to point out the flaws in some releases from various distributions. But, and this is a good time for it, it is also necessary to voice appreciation for the continuous hard work being done by scores of volunteer developers, beta-testers and corporate code grunts who make it all possible. When you see a distribution grow like this it offers a glimpse of the amount of hours that make for a quality distribution. Yes, it is a bit of a downer that some features were dropped from Feisty Fawn and I still want to see how CNR will be implemented. But, for now I can only say thank you, thank you, thank you to all the Linux hackers.

And for the rest of us, just try it once to follow your favorite distro along a similar track.

Tags: Ubuntu, Linux

Akismet reaches 10.000 caught spamposts on my blog

For a while the Akismet spamcounter was climbing very slowly upwards, but the last few days it really rushed towards a new milestone: 10.000. For those who do not know it. Akismet is a great plugin for WordPress based blogs. It captures spamposts and saves you a bundle of time sifting through the trash to find the few decent contributions to the discussion.

The great rush towards 10.000 was mostly the result of a single spammer (or various spammers using the same IP adress): 81.95.146.227

Yes, this is about naming and shaming. I know there are tons of spammers out there who try to get some posts on my blog, but this one is really ridiculous. We are talking about multiple attempts per minute. If I refresh the page with blocked comments or spam there are again a few new posts. This one is hammering constantly and it is time this spam server is taken offline, fast.

Other than that, I am very pleased with Akismet and kudos to the developers.

Tags: WordPress, Akismet

Back to the iMac: open source software

With all the problems I experienced with the X-server when installing Linux I decided to take a different route. How far can I go with open source software on Mac OSX. Our great friend, Google, revealed some interesting websites that led me to the conclusion that I can go far, very far.

One interesting website is Open Source Mac, which contains a fairly complete list of software for the Mac OS X. A lot of familiar software and some interesting new material like Centerstage with which you can turn the iMac into a media center. A little less slick looking, but well equipped is FreeSMUG, which focuses on free software (as opposed to, distinctive from open source software). A complete CD can be downloaded here. Nothickmanuals is even more austere looking website, but -again- the list of software is promising and fills some gaps.

But what really got me excited was the Fink Project. Fink can almost be compared to Synaptic in that it provides a graphical interface to apt-get and -dpkg to install Unix open source software on the Mac OS X.

Why use Fink?

Five reasons to use Fink to install Unix software on your Mac:

Power. Mac OS X includes only a basic set of command line tools. Fink brings you enhancements for these tools as well as a selection of graphical applications developed for Linux and other Unix variants.

Convenience. With Fink the compile process is fully automated; you’ll never have to worry about Makefiles or configure scripts and their parameters again. The dependency system automatically takes care that all required libraries are present. Our packages are usually set up for their maximum feature set.

Safety. Fink’s strict non-interference policy makes sure that the vulnerable parts of you Mac OS X system are not touched. You can update Mac OS X without fear that it will step on Fink’s toes and vice versa. Also, the packaging system lets you safely remove software you no longer need.

Coherence. Fink is not just a random collection of packages, it is a coherent distribution. Installed files are placed in predictable locations. Documentation listings are kept up to date. There’s a unified interface to control server processes. And there’s more, most of it working for you under the hood.

Flexibility. You only download and install the programs you need. Fink gives you the freedom to install XFree86 or other X11 solutions in any way you like. If you don’t want X11 at all, that’s okay too.

It is available for both the PPC and Intel platforms and the list of packages is soooooooo Linux.

    • base – Core packages
    • crypto – Cryptographic software (subject to national regulations)
    • database – SQL and other database software
    • devel – Software for software development
    • editors – Text editors
    • games – Games and other fun stuff
    • gnome – The GNOME desktop environment (hybrid of versions 2.6-2.16)
    • graphics – Graphics applications and libraries
    • kde – K Desktop Environment (version 3.5.4)
    • languages – Programming languages (compilers, interpreters)
    • libs – General purpose libraries
    • libs/perlmods – Perl libraries
    • libs/pythonmods – Python libraries
    • libs/rubymods – Ruby libraries
    • net – Network-related applications and libraries
    • sci – Scientific applications
    • shells – Shells a.k.a. command line interpreters
    • sound – Audio software
    • text – Text-processing software
    • utils – Utilities that do not fit elsewhere
    • web – Web-related software
    • x11 – General X11 packages – toolkits and utilities
    • x11-system – X Window System core packages
    • x11-wm – Window managers for the X Window System

Before I can continue with Fink I need to install two things on the iMac: the XCode Tools/Developer Tools and X11, but once that is done it it time to compile all the software I would like to see on my iMac. This should be fun 😉

Tags: Mac OSX, open source, Linux

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