Wednesday, December 31, 2008

tech life 2 - when worlds collide

My mother-in-law was one thing, the grandkids another. Two 7 year-olds, how do you let them compute and keep your hair? I do have two machines, one my Linux workhorse and the XP just to remind me machine on the side. I installed the equalizer of open source software on both - TUX Paint!!!!!!!!, so they both could do the same thing.

Tux Paint is a wonder of a paint program. While the turkey was in the oven the kids not only learned the interface, they worked both machines without complaint, without problems. There was no difference in the programs operation or the outcomes. Pretty amazing things the kids were doing, I was impressed. If your computer doesn't have TUX Paint you must be a slacker. It's for kids but I also like to play because it's not so serious. And yet some pictures are quite good. It has brushes, stamps, lines, effects and sounds. Your talented budding artist will be busy, you'll be hunched over their shoulder going "let me try that". If you have a good printer you can put that refrigerator magnet collection to work. The way kids see and do things is really cool.

Then after the charm wore off, they settled into playing the games on my Linux box. They liked the one called "Super TUX", sort of a remake of the original Mario bros. Then TUX racer a downhill racer. There are other games of course but kids are kids. The object is play, total immersion into an alternate reality. There are lots of games in the Linux world. The wonderful thing is that if you install the ones in the Linux repository you don't get the crappy malware that is often attached to commercial and online games. I did notice that games act weird if you have all sorts of desktop compositing effects. They seem to work better if they don't have to compete for the display. Or it just may be my machine. I'll have to have the kids over more to test my theory, NOT. But I may look into it prior to their next visit.

I have said all this to say that Open Source Software that will run on either platform allows you a mobility that breaks the bonds of platform loyalty. If 7 year-olds can do it.............
The Linuxville desk is a mess, the cats are in hiding and after 3 days I am looking forward to the quiet once more. Linux was enjoyed by all. I am going to miss them but I get to have at TUX Paint by myself. Bye kids, see ya later folks........

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

livin the tech life

I'm tell'n ya, sometimes it's sweet and sometimes it's sweat. The tech life depends upon your point of view and your training. As Linuxville is not the most popular destination it takes on the persona of a resort town. There are seasons of crowds and seasons of emptiness. Linux is great on the server as most system admin will attest, but on the desktop Linux is still suspect. Actually the big difference between Linux on the server and desktop is the purpose and the GUI. Linux as a desktop has not filtered down into the majority of the computing public of users. Typically most PC users are Microsoft Windows oriented. Some know of Linux, most have no clue. If you have a PC powered by Linux, you just can't go to your local PC shop and ask for help. Chances are they have no experience with the Linux desktop. It is a pretty common occurrence. It is no different for home PC users or business users. All the problems that typical users have with their PC's or networks require a MS oriented technician to fix it. If you follow the logic, there is a synergy type relationship between the short comings of MS Windows and the technicians needed to fix them.

What about Linux based techie's?? The hardware part is the same no matter the OS, but Linux is.........well don't try it because if you get use to it, you will be spoiled. Seems once I set Linux up I don't have to mess with it for long stretches of time. I tend to forget what I did or how. If I had a continual practice of tweaking and fixing like I had with MS Windows I would be good at fixing. All my friends plus the jobs I seek have MS Windows PCs'. How can you ever get good at supporting Linux? Also seems Linux doesn't need that much fixing (once set up).

In the MS side of the PC world you can aspire to be a system admin, or user support tech. In the Linux world, system admin is the thing, you do it all (fewer users). That leaves software support and there is so much software out there. Business software is one thing and popular general use software is another. It can be difficult to place yourself to get exposure and training and experience. The reality is that you can't do or know it all. A greater problem is that you may not like the more needful and well paying tech work available around you. I think I fall into this category. After 24 years of electrical drafting I don't think of selling my soul to learn the depths of a new profession in PC support as a younger person might. I am a tad bit selective choosing not to constantly break new ground. So, I stay with what I am familiar with; CAD, graphics, open source software for general use,PC break/fix, desktop support, the Linux experience, and some MS Windows stuff.

My biggest hurdle is getting enough experience to hone my computer skills and make the work flow techniques to troubleshoot problems second nature. Some techs have a memory for facts, methods and experiences. This is a great value to techs. My dad could listen to a car, almost know what's wrong with it. Experience is big. A huge problem to techs is ego. A big self is not good for any situation or relationship. A little tempering makes for good business. Don't turn dependence upon your skills into a worship session. You should appreciate that folks rely on you, instead of that better person lurking in the wings. Don't you know there is always someone better!!

I think the human drive for perfection, excellence, and experts is over emphasized. Most of us reside between average and very intelligent. Many, many people hold this concept, in spite of our networks, being able to google for solutions, and think tank with peers. We still want go-to-people, gurus, prodigies and know-it-alls. This one person solution results in one thing, stress. To endure stress, work well under pressure, pays very well. To be skillful and under the constant squeeze makes you a star. Careful even the sun won't burn forever!

The user side of the tech life in Linuxville is still under development. Everything is in place, just needs users to use it. Not having a marketing machine behind it means folks are not worried about profits in the next quarter or risking the farm or bilking the investors. It is truly amazing Linux and open source software exist. Success here is measured in convinced and appreciating users not figs on the spreadsheet. Of course if Linuxville was filled with perm residences instead if vacationers my income would be a little better. Yet, I appreciate all who are curious and adventurious, come by, come in, Linuxville will always be open.

Friday, December 26, 2008

showing and telling

My peak of the season, my wife's 91 year old mother comes for dinner. She is one sharp and snappy whit, a retired grade school art teacher and artist in her own right. She, over the years has nipped and tucked at my artistic endeavors and I have resisted on principle. You see, I believe one should embrace the training you received while developing but, don't make it a hard rule to instruct the next generation. In principle, things like composition, balance, color, etc; never change, methods may change and media always changes. Even motivation, inspiration, vision, and meaning will greatly change the reason for doing art. Then there is this thing called permission. If an art "student" has the desire to be placed under your tutelage, you have permission to overshadow them. If not, you will be the harshest critic to the student, inflicting uninvited guidance, might even snuff them out. So you see here is a kind of tension between myself and my experienced artist mother-in-law.

She went to art school. They prepared her to be an artist professional so she could make a living doing art. It's not always a glamorous outcome. They break you and remake you and train you. You have many skills in the end, have tasted many techniques. Mother's specialty was watercolor, she is pretty good. Had her paintings printed in a book written by one of her instructors and won a few museum art shows. Then she taught grade school art many years.
Oh, did I tell you she has never used a computer at all, for anything. She, does not understand or appreciate computer art production. I tell her she needs to embrace the new media for what it is. I think she thinks much of the art that surrounds her today was done the way she learned it. Photoshop is not in her vocab.

Then there's me. The art muse ran in my family also. My own mother took a correspondence art course. She used to draw our hands and feet. If she was not so preoccupied with raising us she would have been a fine artist. I was always coloring and drawing on something. As a teen I took to drawing houses, buildings in pencil then ball point pen. I jumped from architecture to drafting electrical circuits in my professional life. To keep the artist alive, I kept sketchbooks. If you don't jot it down, dreams tend to dissipate, ideas fade away. I got my first computer never dreaming I could do art on it. Computer aided drafting swept the engineering world and over the years I received hard training. But I did learn to play, to doodle, to dabble with lines and shapes and colors, to escape the boundaries of electrical product design. I learned to do what's in my sketchbooks on my computer.

How did our encounter go? A picture is a picture whether on the canvas or on the PC screen. She wrestled with the concept of how it's done but was more a teacher than anything. She said I should draw scenario after scenario as if I was working with a pencil. I showed her how I could move elements around, tweak and adjust them in real time, even change color, density and size.
She liked my work but had reservations about my outcomes, even cringed at the thought of printing on a printer. The best part was she is still open to new technology, though she would never leave what she knows and I was not saddled with pursuing art by the way she learned it.

So some advice to you folks who play, doodle and dabble. You are an artist already, because you have the inkling to do it. You might need a little training to learn composition, skills and techniques to help your expression outcomes be appreciated by other people. If other artist are your target audience, you are playing to the wrong crowd. Perfection is the ultimate lie, can be a time wasting obsession and is only appreciated by others so afflicted. Don't cast aside so quickly the beginnings of your fascination, first sparks are like seeds. Keep sketchbooks, visual diaries as a matter of habit, the best ideas come when your not doing art. Don't put off for ever using what you have learned to do, find a way.

If you are like me there is no excuse. I can't afford Photoshop or any pricey artist software but I have discovered open sourced Inkscape and GIMP, they are free. They work well to manipulate digital pixels which is the point. And if I ever have the need or desire to get the pro stuff the option is still there. In the meanwhile I can do digital art with what tools are available to me. Life is sweet! And I haven't even mentioned Linuxville!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Over coming FOSS assumptions

I have touched on many topics users encounter in their approach to Linuxville. If you can get past the Mac and PC Burma-shave marketing noise, you enter into a place with new sights and sounds. The three most common remarks, "I didn't know Linux looked like that!" and "I didn't know you could do that in Linux!" or "Can I run my MS software in Linux?" Well, each operating system creates a world around itself, Linux is no different. The reason is to provide many solutions and meet the needs of the various kinds of users. Why one operating system should accommodate the applications born on another is a mystery only users dream of. Then there is Free and Open Source Software or FOSS. The idea is that software can be compiled or ported to run on different platforms. Some companies are reluctant to allow their applications to be ported to run on other OS's. Many of the applications born on the Linux platform however do not have this problem. Linux itself is free and for the most part open source. I say wow, an application like Open, will run on MS, Linux and Macs. Open source software gives you an added layer of freedom. You can move your files and your user work experience across platforms.

"I am uncertain of difference and change." I know the feeling. When ever I bought a new car, I struggled with the new car smell and feel, it's just not like my old car. Finally I come to grips, it has a steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal, the gear shifter (might be different), it sounds a bit different and the response. After a test drive I get the confidence, I can adjust to this, it's not that bad. The best car I ever had was a Pontiac 6000, roomy, zoomy and that startling orange dashboard back-lighting! Switching computer platforms can be like that.

What happens when a product doesn't live up to all the marketing hype? Seems the technical crowd go all out to warn users that a product experience might not be so great. And some users like political party faithfuls refuse to believe something is amiss. MS has had a few OS offerings that were not so hot. That Millennium thingy and now Vista are met with regrets. I like many others thought XP was way way better. I've seen some prelim reviews of the new MS Win7, looks promising. But being a Linux guy, I can afford to wait and see. Will MS restore the public confidence to buy their stuff without reservation, because it is on the shelf, the defacto standard? Stay tuned. Will Apple's Macs escape the Unix tractor beam or will Yul Brynner's face fall off revealing a cold kill you cyborg nature? The Borg are everywhere, you know. Then there are the Astronaut Farmer types who pieced Linux together in kits (distros) so you to can have your own low budget space program. Linuxville has more rocket silos per capa than any OS town.

Getting back to FOSS assumptions, the common thought is that if the software is on the shelf, it is approved for use. The shelf is where most go to find a user "product". It is only after folks have spent the bucks, invested in that platforms' economy to upgrade and replace, that they begin to wonder about alternatives. I have seen people buy Paintshop Pro because Photoshop was too expensive. They don't really have a need for the top shelf but feel any notch lower is better that MS Paint. Folks have their reasons to justify the purchase. A lot of the software dubbed free-ware has not been that great. The interfaces have been awkward or unattractive and the tools short of producing the results users want. FOSS has been escaping that low quality stigma. The various software projects are manned by armies of open source developers and users who endeavor to improve and debug FOSS to equal or surpass the stuff on the shelf. Can it be that I can get what I want for free? Not seen on TV or at your local PC merchant's store, but on the net? After all this time, many many people are clueless and could care less, some just don't know. I put to you to do the word of mouth thing.

Here are some results of my using FOSS applications (GIMP and Inkscape to be exact).

And I think I've showed this one before.

The FOSS graphics applications are different than the store bought ones but the tools are the same. I am not a professional working for a commercial concern so I am not needing commercial software. I am an artist, free to use what ever tools I find adequate to express my ideas. Usually the only thing that matters is the file format of the final artwork. Inkscape and GIMP will produce a number of file formats that are compatible with commercial software. I also use Abiword, Open and other FOSS with no ill side effects. The bottom line is that branding is not the only mark of quality or the stability/certainty of a piece of software. FOSS is called community developed and supported, but realize that they are not a free wheeling menagerie of aimless back-room nerds and code-heads. They are supported by many companies, groups and organizations who donate time, money and salaries to give you the stuff for free. And you can support the efforts, the same as they, with time and bucks, if you like.

In Linuxville you can go to the Linux Graphics Users forum, if you are graphically inclined. I hope I have sparked your interest in FOSS, in that case go here to enter into a whole new world. "Please come to Linuxville in the springtime, babe!"...........

Monday, December 15, 2008

greetings programs! or the force is with you!

Sci-fi cults are still the rage, seems we never want it to end after we are immersed. As a kid I was into Fireball XL5, Stingray and Super Car, they were science fiction series produced with marionettes, you know puppets instead of real actors. They had all the elements that are standard science fiction fare today, including the special effects. Google Gerry Anderson the genius behind them, very interesting. He also did Space 1999. Gerry's knack was great story telling, truly entertaining. Yeah I did the Lost In Space and then Star Trek thing, I can't recall the time frame. The most thrilling ones for me, Tron and Star Wars. As someone interested in building and furnishing design and then computer graphics, I was armoured by this visionary designer named Syd Mead. He had his hand into these movies. But the intriguing part was that the technology to produce the movies was being invented while the movies were being made. I get into the supplemental special feature discs because I just got to know how they made the movies. Tron was made before they had personal computers, before Jobs, Gates and Torvalds became names. It was a Unix world. What we enjoy today in graphics was pretty well worked out while Jobs and Gates were kids. They were progressors of the technology not inventors of the technology.

On my Linuxville (Xubuntu) desktop, I have an application called VLC or VideoLan media player. With the help of a few codecs (the stuff that reads video file formats), I can play consumer DVDs on my computer. What's so cool about that is the smaller display is so sharp, the detail is startling. The larger TV screen is fuzzier and because you sit back away from the screen you miss some details. I captured a screenshot of Princess Leia in the guest quarters of Bespin, Star Wars 5. I thought the architecture was stark but excitingly futuristic. And Tron, I might as well watch the movie again and again. Yes, I do collect YouTube videos, they are great for instructional subjects and of course jazz music. I really like to see the musicians in real-time performance rather than listening to doctored studio work. There are musicians who play the Chapman Stick instead of guitars and EWI (electronic wind instrument) instead of the traditional saxophone. I haven't the time to be fanatic, but to be able to amuse myself once in a while is fun.

A friend pointed out to me about video cams. You know how attached some are to their cellphone cams, but PC cams are not so utilized unless you count YouTube vids. My thought is that the Jetsons' have arrived years ago only we still can't get the videophone act together. To be able to call your friends, see and talk to them is wrought with problems. Oh, they can see me, am I presentable or will my exposure be misconstrued as porn peddling? Jane Jetson talked behind a mask when necessary, we all could have an avatar, a digital persona. We even have a big name for it, telecommuting or teleconferencing so as to isolate that activity from our daily telephone use. Hard to believe we are still uncomfortable with the concept of videophones. I guess we need a degree of privacy and anonymity. Still I would like to be able to call and see my parents, kids and grandkids, the phone call and occasional trip is just not adequate.

Predictions, yes, the mouse will slowly disappear, the mouse pad will become the pen pad. The wireless pen will be perfected. Walgreens will sell a matched pen set, a regular pen and a digital pen. The keyboard will be replaced by a digital display that has a virtual keyboard and able to double as pen input pad. The pen pad will be flexible of course. Ipods will be bluetooth, in fact the Blackberry will have ipod functions integrated into it. The ear-piece will access your phone/ipod/blackberry by voice and you will be assimilated. There will be no difference between TV/home theater equipment and computer equipment. All the elements will be interchangeable and reconfigurable. Your Blackberry will be a true universal remote as it becomes aware of all your bluetooth connections. The desktop computer will shrink to laptop size, yet still be component based. This new unit will extend the capability and power of a standard laptop. You will even be able to stack them blade server style, link them together for more power. Look for a read/write DVD for big files, movies but for small files, the jump drive will be here for ever. I hope the read/write CD stays around. Will hard drives vanish? Perhaps in the long term, but they are supreme for huge storage. You might see flash memory on the motherboard for the operating system and installed applications. Your Home directory or My Document directory should be put on a separate drive just for safety and security's sake. CRT's will become extinct to most users. If these thing aren't happening or don't, I remind you how hard it is for Yoda to see forward even via the force.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I just gotta live here!

Ever wonder why people live in areas prone to fire, floods, tornadoes, etc. !? I just can't figure it out. I guess it's not so simple in their minds either. How much do you endure before you move on to a safer environment. Lets look at the cyber world. With the popularity of cell phones and PDA's, do you practice safe text? Or is your cellphone camera an agent of voyeurism or cyber smut, but you think it is innocent play or just fun? Is your computer platform a disaster zone, but you endure it because it is the popular standard product or you just like it? I'm not here to judge but many times we open ourselves to things simply because they exist, are available and make poor choices regardless of consequences (ya know, the heat of the moment).

Now lets look at why I am in this mode of thought. My daughter has this computer, plus 1 teenage son and 1 even younger son. Like all kids they are into media, games, sports, other kids and the list is endless. The big three are social web sites, gaming web sites and music download sites. These are notorious for unwanted additions to your computer. If you don't have firewalls, anti-virus and spyware/malware protection, the range and amount of compromising files installed on your computer is incredible. The worst part is even with all the precautions in play the threats still come and they are not so easily removed. I really don't want to knock Microsoft XP or Vista, but they seem to be the targets of disaster, scams and mischief to abuse the user and the user's computer.

So, what can you do to cover yourself in spite of all the precautions you've already taken?

1. Get a USB hard drive big enough to backup your stuff. If you got a new computer with no stuff on it, that is the best time to make an image of your "untarnished system". Or burn that image to a DVD. The idea is to put your backup somewhere safe away from your computer. Get advice on the kind of backup. A backup program that has a propriety file format is useless if your operating system or that backup program is kaput. I prefer a direct disk image, a one for one copy. But get advice, that is important.

2. Don't misplace or discard your original software CD's, they are as vital as your keyboard. Tape them to the inside or outside of your PC case, put them in your wall safe. If you didn't get MS XP or Vista disks, look into getting them. This alone will save you from much agony. I have each computer's pamphlets and disks in large Ziplock bags.

3. After you saved your disks, docs and original installation, check your programs that have internet access. This is email programs, web browsers, media players and especially anti-virus and spyware/malware programs. There are bogus programs that are frontends to third party backdoor software. They have legit sounding names. Make sure the software meant to protect you is the real thing, do some research. Computer groups are a big resource. Think plug security holes, control outside access!

4. Either take the time to learn about your computer and/or have a PC Tech handy. Catch things when they are infant problems. Grown up problems are so messy and time consuming to fix. I am looking over at my daughters machine while I am typing this. The XP machine is doing an AVG Antivirus scan. So far there are 13 Trojan horse files found after 1 hour and 3 minutes of scanning.

5. You know that doctors warn about taking too much medicine. You don't want to take 3 aspirins for a headache. It will not work faster. There was 2 versions of one antivirus and 1 of another on this computer. Whether by zeal or unintentional mistake, multiples of software that scan your hard drive and your internet ports is not good, they can conflict with each other. Delete that trail-ware after it has expired, either buy the service or get freeware protection. I myself like AVG Antivirus free edition.

6. If you are curious or fed up with living in the MS Bermuda Triangle, move to Linuxville. Try Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Xubuntu (my favorite). If you insist on paying money, get a Mac. If you really, really must stay with Microsoft, do all you can to lessen intrusions to your system. Being careless will cost you more money and time. I am not saying that Linux is safer but it is less of a target. I am sure if everybody moves to Linux those cyber baddies will move there too. Yes, there are anti-virus, ad blockers, anti-spyware and such for Linux (just in case). So far, my 4 years of continuous Linux use has not had any attacks. I am still a little bit cautious.

7. Use open source applications and file formats when ever possible. They do not change just because the operating system is upgraded or the application has a new version. These open source formats can cross any platform, Mac, MS or Linux. This is very desirable and practical.

Well, I am going to give back my daughter's computer, the final scan is coming up clean. It is time consuming to clean a computer. Both the hardware and software need attention, sometimes the user needs adjusting also. We users are a habitual lot, not easy to upgrade our software, ya know. Those organic flash ROMs we call brains are buried under the real-time processor. Then our band-width doesn't always allow us to process all the info we deal with. We often resort to a pen and paper cache because our wiring is inadequate to access the resources we were born with. Older folks are hard wired, it takes continual effort to learn new tricks, ask any old dog. Young folks are being wired even as we speak, but hampered by poor choices and inexperience. But each stage of the game requires we use what awareness we have to figure it out. Family is always the key, young folk and old folks looking to each other to compensate for our shortnesses. User groups as a pool of experience and don't forget your local PC Tech. And then there's me, your Linuxville guide.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Metamorphasis - dropping out, then re-emerging.

Why is there so little time to do it all? You've got to figure out what's important, then account for due process. Things take time. Everything takes time. When your high school buddies drop out of sight and re-emerge as a garage band, you are shocked and amazed. You didn't know they could do that. You wondered what happened to them. And where was I when all this was going on? It is the same for computer users. Most folk are so engrossed in the daily use of Macs, MS XP and Vista, they never notice that there might be something else, something different in the computer world. This is why many new Linux users feel so much anxiety and have a hard time letting MS go. I went from dual-booting to virtual machines to two separate computers, one with MS the other with Linux. There are two different worlds, throw in Macs and then there are three. Each world can and does do the same things as the others but there are some areas that each excels in. Opinions can and do vary. The secret hook is that Macs and MS PC's boast in their professional and educational use as well as games. Can Linux do these things, yes, only Linux does not have the marketing machine or user base that says so and thus is not on most people's radar. So in spite of everything Linux is the choice of a smaller computer aware audience.

Due process, everything takes time, this is something I have embraced since childhood. To be left alone with my toys, to tinker, to figure it out, to go beyond the instructions and examples, I guess is in my nature. Then wonder, if Linux was your only operating system, would that be a gain or a hindrance in your world. I say often, am I the only one? Sure, there is a virtual community, but flesh and blood neighbors, friends and family are all in the MS or Mac worlds. So this desktop Linux is an continuing experiment and I am allowing myself to be immersed. I have had flings of Mac envy and falling back on MS but mostly enjoy what I am discovering about Linux. I've been through the rise and fall of a few operating systems, didn't try them all. There was Amiga OS, OS2, Commodore, Atari, BeOS, Next, and a couple more. You want a certain assurance that your OS and all it's applications are not a passing fad, that is too tied to the present time and present technology. An OS must have both the present and future in view, be flexible to grow, change and challenge, even press for innovation and be in peoples' face.

I will admit to having fanboy outbreaks about Linux, but against the backdrop of Mac and MS users entrenched in their daily use, I just want to say Linux deserves a spot as an alternative choice. Linux is not disappearing and is in fact improving with every iteration. I don't have any Linux tee shirts, I do carry around Linux live-CDs. I have a Steiff penguin which I've had before I found Linux (The Linux mascot is a penguin named Tux). I promote free and open source software (FOSS) every chance I get. Going a bit further, as a techie, I haven't had to remove any viruses, malware or those kinds of things in my many years of Linux use. Can't say the same for MS use in my life. Could be Linux is better, not a target so much, or my Internet habits are more selectively careful. I am not a social network fan, an avid game site visitor or a habitual music down loader. My interest are narrow as I don't have the time to see, do, or try everything. Yet I discover new things to explore within my choices. This is called focus. You never get good at anything if your roaming all over the place too much.

Oh, I know Photoshop is the pro-ware every artistic person should use, but there is other stuff out there like Inkscape and GIMP that if you spend enough time with could meet your needs for free. And you still, if you are so desirous, can buy and use Photoshop. You just can't run it in Linux, or can you? In any case I really like Inkscape and GIMP, finding them capable of extending my craft and honing my talents. I have not bothered to compare them to Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. If your artistic training pre-supposes that you will work for a commercial (professional occupation) concern, you should look at pro-ware, get it, use it. If not, you like me can choose differently. I know this to be true because I have known folks who mix their own photo-chemicals, grind powders to make their own paint colors or dyes, soldered computer boards to run other operating systems and don't buy consumer products when the do-it-yourself option is more fun. After you've made your choice of tools, you must focus to see what you can make them do. You can inquire what others using the tools you've chosen are doing, get tips, tutorials and ideas.

In the "Matrix" you go down the rabbit-hole to see how far it goes. You might pop, merge, become a super user or make a deal to go back. But can you really go back? The experience has changed you forever, added something dimensional to your thinking, your awareness. I have resigned to being a Linux guy, I think it's super. I have the flexibility to move between computer worlds, but I prefer Linuxville. I live on Xubuntu street and will visit from time to time other hoods, like Fedora road, Dynebolic avenue and Mandriva lane. The best is that things are both the same and different everywhere in Linuxville. Something familiar, something new.
Check out a travel brochure aka Linux distro web site, visit via live-CD or make yourself at home with an might be the One.

Friday, December 05, 2008

my imagination at work here

I just wanted to write a quick document of some sort so I click on Open and it takes...................f_o_r_e_v_e_r_! Because of all my experience of well founded knowledge I say it's a bloated program, overstuffed with bells and whistles and I need something lighter!?! Well, I was searching the Ubuntu friendly blogs and I ran across this tip:

When Open finally does open, click on Tools in the main menu bar, then Options at the bottom of the menu, then select the Memory category. On the right there is a box for Undo Memory usually set to "100". Do you really need 100 levels of Undo?? I reset this to 25. Then close Open Now, reopen it and gee, it's kind of zippier at startup.

There's a 100 tips in the naked city, one of them might work for you. Oh, you thought tweaking like a geek means coding the command line of death. No, it's just that the default values for most of the programs you normally use can be adjusted for a more pleasurable Linux experience. Sorry, there is no single manual but there are tips circulating about Linuxville. The hardest thing for folks who don't know or think they know already is to ask for help. You just need to learn how to "google" your request. I start by typing just what I think in a question, then refine it until I get the results from the internet search I want. So "ubuntu tips" might get you more than you could read in one day. Or you might try "Open tips" or "using Open". In any event, a little targeted research yields lots of free online help.

Point shaving and computer buying have consequences resulting in aggravation and regret. It's true, most folk in trying to get the most for their money start to see what they can get away without. Ohooo!, this is a great computer and I can save even more if don't buy any extra memory. I bought my XP machine, had 512mb of ram and it is just fine. Later I find that XP runs way, way better with 1024mb of ram. I look back and realize I had the money at the time of purchase, but now have to justify the cost. So the lesson learned is to buy as much computer as you can afford the first time around. Maybe sacrifice the 500gig hard drive for a 250gig hard drive and spend that money on RAM. If your computer takes 2-4 gig ram, fill it up. You won't regret it later. Of couse the saying is that Linux will run fine with 512mb of ram and it does, but then you have applications to run on top of the operating system. Mostly it is no problem but if performance is important to you, more RAM brings better performance. RAM is for running programs, HARD DISKS are for storing programs and data. So when you see 500gig of hard disk, don't go "Ohooo!" until you see how much RAM comes with it.

To better manage your computer I also have this thought. You can buy that box with the huge hard drive and fill it up with all your stuffs. Then when something goes wrong with your box, virus, malware, spyware, and you need to fix it, chances are you didn't back it up. The operating system that has the problem is on the same hard drive as your stuffs. What if your operating system is hosed and you can't get at your stuffs? To all this I say forget the huge internal hard drive, buy the computer with a smaller hard drive and in addition buy a USB external hard drive (any size) instead. Then save personal stuffs to the external drive as a matter of habit. When/if something goes wrong with your operating system, your stuffs are safe and intact on the other drive. The USB drive is a portable and practical life saver. As Will Smith said in "Independence", "I got ta get me one of these!".

What I would like to see..............
A desktop computer designed to run virtual machines. What's a virtual machine? I have a Linux setup and had a program called Virtualbox. Virtualbox allowed me to run one operating system with it's applications inside of another. So within Linux I could run XP in a window running say Internet Explorer. Both OS's are running at the same time, sharing resources. Each operating system would be on it's own USB drive (or jump drive). The master operating system could load and run any of the attached operating systems in a window. All data would be stored on a large partitioned drive and sharing between operating systems is handled by the master operating system. You would need 4-8gig of RAM for multiple running OS's and a beefy video card.

Then I would like to see a pen input overlay I could put on my present LCD display. I don't really need the added dimension and cost of pen pressure input to vary line weight, I could buy a Wacom tablet for that. I need something more for CAD drawing although that mouse gesture thing might be handy. I would also mount the display in a slanted frame like a real drawing table on my desk with enough space for my keyboard to slide under it.

Computers are changing, the desktop is no longer what most envision. The laptop is now the normal choice. USB stuff is great stuff, smallish, convenient and portable, but Bluetooth is the rage from mice to Blackberries because it's wireless. The big game is to integrate it all into one seamless system.

Friday, November 28, 2008

under the Linuxville news desk

The tangle of wires, wisps of "dust-bunnies" and digital bits that somehow leaked out, all strewn about, their muffled scurrying amid key clicks and computer's hum, I brush them with my foot, oh that's one of the cats.......

I "googled" myself, Arno's Art, just to see who's out there. There is an Arno Arts that is not Arno's Art. They, or he, or she are a multimedia artist in Germany, I think. They seem pretty well established and professional and in no way are related to yours truly, but it is interesting. Just try to be original, really original, in this Internet age. I use Arno because that's how my mom says it and my artist persona "RNO", is taken from the middle of my name. So I am within my self, ha ha.
Arno's Art sounds better than Arno's Science now doesn't it? In my realm you use science to find out all about it, then to apply it is an art. Thus art is the application of science. Tell all your teachers I said that.

Under the Linuxville desk is not so new technology because I like most of you can not keep up with the latest toys and have no practical need to do so. The problem comes when your beloved and depended on software is no longer supported or the new hardware requires new software. I've made the jump from Win95, to Win98 to XP to, that's enough........ With each ineration of Win there was a new set of applications to fit. And the stuff that was not really old enough to be trashed was useless, unsupported, made obsolecent.

In the Linux realm, my hardware is having a longer life cycle, in fact older hardware is quite useful. That older PC could become a file server, network attached storage (NAS), or a web server, or an multimedia machine for my den, on my network and not missed at all. Yeah, you could do it with MS Win, but this is Linuxville remember!? MS software owership is a lease agreement at best, you have the right to use it according to their wishes. Linux is free from legal entanglements and brusing your conscience, it really is yours to do as you wish. Free and up-to-date software on older hardware is tough to pass up. My wife worries about outbreaks of "it's alive, it's alive" coming from the computer room.

Here's a scenerio: You have your laptop with all you personal data on it (huge hard drive), it gets "borrowed" by a stranger and all your info is gone. Or, you keep your most precious data on your network attached storage (NAS), could be a portable USB drive, which you leave at home. Protect your data, there are digital dumpster divers in the world.

And speaking of digital art........
To all you folk who have interest in digital art, how do you view it? When you think of digital art, what do you think? My first impression was that of commercial art. My sister worked in advertizing, my cousins for a greeting card company. Then there is game art, comics, cartoons and special effects for movies. There are lots of fantasy artist and desktop icon and wallpaper artist. And I am still amoured by industrial designers who design all the stuff we live with, especially home furnishings. With the advent of big screen digital TV's you will see more "screensaver" add-ons that will allow you to display family photos or your digital art collection when you are not watching commercial television (plug in your jump drive). Much of the digital art today is never intended to be printed out, framed and hung, but it could be...........

There is much to be said about traditional art media and folks who have learned the skills to use them. They will not go away, but works of art with those media will probably become more rare, thus more valuable. But no matter the media, it is the artist who makes the art. What is interesting is when artist cross over and blend and bend and stretch and blur the lines between different media. Yeah, it would be very cool if one of my works wound up behind your couch, over your headboard, in your dining room. I am an admitted niche artist, looking for a responding audience, yet not trying to make a career out of it. And it all happens here in Linuxville..........

Monday, November 24, 2008

Revenge of the living-dead dust-bunnies!

Of course I've been busy these past few days, the Linuxville desk piled with the daily mess. I'm not much on tidy but after a while you begin to notice the clutter. A forensics team would have a field day, smudges, finger prints and dust-bunnies. Dust-bunnies!?!

I looked down at my keyboard, the key-cap legends worn off and various residues on the edges of keys where my fingers don't touch. Clean it or trash it, I think. The LCD screen is smudged and I don't really have a touchscreen, I touch it anyway. My mouse is well........if your mouse is optical, blessed are you. Cleaning the rollers in a mouse with a ball is no guarantee of lasting better performance.

But the all out worst thing is when I open the PC case (because of techie curiosity) and view the proliferation of dust-bunnies. They are relentless airflow sucking non-life forms. They have the nature of a thermal blanket. They are the total reverse of a Hepa-filter. Besides clogging vents, layering on fans and the motherboard, dust-bunnies coat the heat-sinks on those critical parts. The CPU, video chip, and other components which run better if not encrusted, must be free to dissipate heat. My plan is to clean out the dust-bunnies one day when I'm not so preoccupied. It's one of those jobs your friendly neighborhood PC tech can do for you. A cool PC will run better! (though you may not notice it). It is a wear and tear kind of thing. Believe me thermal inversion is as bad as kryptonite, just ask Superman!

So, if your PC could stand some sprucing up, don't wait for Spring. "Take your hand off that vacuum cleaner!!" A gentler approach is needed here. Get a techie to do the work.

I am thinking new keyboard and mouse and maybe a fancy graphic tablet. My personal wish is for more RAM and a USB hard drive. I've got miles to go before I want a new PC.

The Linux graphic's thing is a wonderful adventure. All you Adobe fans will just have to drive your Lexus to the corner store. Inkscape and GIMP are the new "people's car", have enough cup holders and are "ghetto-safe". Here's a shot of my latest play on glass........

Here I used transparent color, layers and the perspective tools. I have to set up a gallery to show off the rest of my work. I am having lots of fun. My wife is starting to worry about me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh, My user, my user, my user........

Been thinking about the movie "Tron" and how the program characters hoped in their users. A lot depends on the user, you know!

Pencils have been with us for eons yet some still find them awkward and clumsy. I never cared for pencils, barely liked ball-points till those gel-pens came along. Then I am undecided about fine or wide line, depends on the whim and the need. And felt tips are well, if you got to use them......... Computers use keyboards and while I am not a typist, my hunt and peck technique has improved a notch or two over the years. Some can fly blindfolded, others pound with their fists, their heads bobbing up and down at whiplash speeds. Lucky you if you are tech savvy and a keyboard master too.

In the art realm many use what's called a graphics tablet or a tablet PC. What they have in common is a pen to move the cursor for a more natural like drawing experience. There are tablets and then stones with chisels. I have a low end tablet, the pen on it is too sensitive and not very adjustable. It moves the cursor OK, but clicks all kinds of unintended stuff. So, if you are graphics tablet shopping, get one that has all kinds of adjustments from dainty to death grip. Spend the bucks, you get what you pay for. At this stage of the game, having used a mouse for so long, I have become accustomed to drawing with it (the mouse). Hey, let's see how well you draw with a bar of soap. It's a good thing drawing programs aren't like drawing with pencils.

There is much opinion about folks using such and such graphics program. Should you use a professional or a free open source one? Then which one? I have discovered graphics programs are exactly like pencils and pens. There's a lot of them, each are the same but different, and depends on the user. Yes, depends on the user! Every user has their own logic, their own natural quirks as to what works for them. If you actually spend enough time learning to use one program, it becomes imprinted in your way of doing things. This makes you biased to using that program over others. So, what fits you? What fits your way of thinking and working? And do you need it?

It is a funny thing with artist and other such folks. We start off using the best we can afford (usually the cheapest), then as we improve, invest in better materials. Partly because we think if we use the higher end stuff, we will be better or at least appear to be better. Then there is the quality thing. I think some have made a good business out of high end stuff. Computer artist have it over the traditional painters in that you can't tell which program has done the digital art. I know that many will boast in their software, after all it is used in the industry. But don't forget, it's the artist who manipulates the materials that makes the art. That person could just as well use any art software to do what they need to do. So this is my plug for FOSS, that is free and open source software. If you don't have access to the high end stuff, yet still need to create, use free and open source software.

I have been playing with GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) and Inkscape. They are wonderful. I have no experience with Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, and just a little with their wannabe clones. I can't afford them, don't intend to buy them, and don't want to hear how great they are. If you use them, that's OK with me. I want to dig deep into the graphic bones of Linux and see what can be done here. This is Linuxville after all.

There are other Linux graphics programs, Krita (part of KDE office), Xara Xtreme, XPaint, GPaint, TuxPaint and several others. They are all like pens and pencils in that they fit different folks with different abilities and aims. All I know is that these other programs don't fit me so well, otherwise I'd be using them.

So now, you have no excuse, if you have lots of cash or are strapped, yet you want to do graphics, there are softwares for you to do the job. Most artist only have two modes, needing encouragement to get going and needing to be told to stop for a while. We do get into our work once we get going.

The ultimate artist would have a lap-held tablet PC, the screen is also the display. You could draw in any environment and when you are in range of your wireless network access point, tap into all your resources. Then print your stuff out on any material that will go through a printer. Gee, there's a lot to get into and you don't even have to leave the Linuxville city limits.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Confessions of a tweakin geek

I guess I was all caught up in the election of the new president the other night. And while having revelations about what this means to yours truly, I now must admit and commit. I decided to upgrade my Ubuntu 8.04 system installation to Xubuntu 8.10. Why Xubuntu, because I only have 512 RAM on my system and Xfce runs way, way better than Gnome or KDE on the same system. So, leaving the adoring fans of Gnome and KDE, I am a Xfce fanboy, again. Both I and my cats think the little mouse symbol is cool. Yeah, Xfce is not as flashy as Gnome or KDE, not as tweakable in some aspects, but has speed and agility plus a rock solid feel I just can't do without. And by sacrificing a little overhead, I get added performance for the applications I use. I downloaded a few desktop themes from to get away from the standard gray themes. And even though Open is a fixture in my tool bag I like to use Abiword which is a tad bit nicer (I just discovered this!).

Up top is my present desktop, I do like horses of different colors. But I don't like the clutter of icons all over my desktop. MS Windows likes to bury the file explorer in the menu, my Xfce keeps it handy so that I know where my files are and I don't have confusion staring me in the face. I've seen too many MS Windows desktops that look like a magnet encrusted refrigerator door. And, I am not so distracted by all the "click me" toys Gnome and KDE has to offer.

What is the secret to living with Ubuntu and loving it, it's got to be "The Official Ubuntu Book". I know all the stuff in it because I'm a long time user, right? wrong! There are tips and secrets and explanations galore, as I found out. To have a simple concise fix to common gotchas is a great thing. But what I want is a screensaver that locks the desktop and screams "pull your hands back and step away from the keyboard", snaps a picture and uploads it to the cops.

The art business is shaping up, sort of. I think I am seeing some avenues I want to pursue. Job hunting is producing results and possibilities. Things are positive in spite of the process.

I leave you with encouraging tips to visit Linuxville. If your PC can boot from a USB hard drive or jump drive, install Linux on it. If you have a second drive you can throw into your PC, put Linux on it. OR just use the live-CD version, Linux has pleasant surprises for most people. And if you do plan to install, do a little research so that those surprises are not overshadowed by gotchas. You wireless people need a heads up. And to tell you the truth, if you think Macs are the only alternative to MS, Macs are Unix underneath no matter how much they deny it. Linux can be easy or difficult depending how you approach it. Linux can accommodate the casual mouse masher and the text-hardened code-head. You can come and go in Linuxville without a passport. Too bad there's no free tee-shirt, coffee mug or mousepad..............

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Linuxville and beyond..........

I've been going back and forth between Ubuntu 8.04 and Kubuntu 8.10, and I miss Xubuntu. There are items in each I like and to have it all in one installation proves to be a tangled and unmanageable mess. Xubuntu is mostly gray in color, but has that right mouse click menu access that is very handy. Kubuntu is stylish with its' Mac like Plasmoids, Dashboard and organized menu. Ubuntu with the Gnome desktop is tweakable and maintains a solid feel and simplicity. Add to this mix the Compiz desktop effects and.............ah! The ones I like are the wobbly windows and the screensaver that is a slide show or the desktop wallpaper slide show. When I was looking at the Metisse desktop on Mandrvia One, I was impressed with the grid array virtual desk. The pager view in the corner of the display allowed me to slide open windows any place in the array without zooming in on that part of the grid. One click and I was focused on any chosen open window. Metisse is like Compiz, more a desktop effect than window manager like Gnome or KDE. Now I wonder if Compiz can do similar virtual desktop tricks. I will have to explore deeper.

People are asking on the net how will the present financial crisis effect the computer world. Will people short on capital turn to seek relief in Free and Open Source Software or will coveting and looting become business as usual. I don't know but I don't have to worry, I use FOSS all the time.

Some observations after looking over the net today. Like I said the common choice these days is the laptop computer. You can get smallish notebooks, netbooks or souped up workstations and game machines on the high end. Those all-in-one computers similar to the iMac are both the bomb and the rage. HP has one that has a touch screen display. And if you are into small format computers there are a number of desktops that take up very little room yet offer big desktop performance. If all I want to do is non-intensive computing, I could use a $300 PC no sweat. But with my graphic urges I want more RAM, a choice of video card and a meaty CPU.

So what PC impresses the heck out of me? One that takes 4gig of system memory and is able to boot from a USB device, be it jump drive or a rotating disk drive. Why? Because you can put your other OS on that drive and use that OS when you want too. You could have a huge drive for each OS if you want to. And if you have an older PC, you could put 4 IDE disk drives in it, turn it into a NAS or network attached storage to hold all your stuff. Geek heaven is a room full of stuff you can hook up in all kinds of ways and FOSS to glue it all together.

I am still holding out hope that my local library will catch the FOSS bug. It has two Open books but needs a couple on GIMP, and a few new Linux books. It is good that FOSS lives on the net, especially instructional videos for graphics apps. Now get out there and oogle your Google or do your Yahoo to get all the info.

Friday, October 31, 2008

stuck in Ubuntu but look over there!

I've said before, once you settle on one distro, that's all you need. The big big problem is that there is always something new in another distro. For instance, I was looking at Mandrvia's latest, Mandrvia One 2009, it is spanking cool. With the Gnome desktop, you can't tell it from other distros (because Linux is Linux is Linux), but there are features that set Mandrvia apart. Mandrvia has Metisse which turns virtual desktops on its side. I had it installed for a short time over Fedora which is also cool. But, I've been so spoiled by the Debian base that Ubuntu rings true for me. So, following that light I installed Kubuntu 8.10 along side of Ubuntu 8.04. Now Ubuntu 8.04 is facing hot competition from Kubuntu 8.10. The KDE desktop version 4.1 has changed, even impressing me. It's a little Mac-ish in some ways but not totaling mimicing. It's a little more comfortable to play with than ver.3.8. Setting up Kubuntu 8.10 was easy and didn't take all day. But to warn you newbie folk, there is no manual, so check the web sites for install instructions and forums for advice.
*ubuntu 8.10 is called "Intrepid Ibex", has some fixes and some new tweaks. The next interation will be "Jaunty Jackalope", a mythical creature with the reputation and personna of Bigfoot. Google jackalope, you'll see what I mean.

Linuxville continues to be an interesting computing place off the beaten path. I hope many folks come visit, explore aand stay.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Extra! Cat lover puts on the dog!

Being a cat herder I come to realize the similarities between cats and Linux distros. The nature is the same yet there are independent personalities. I have one who thinks he's a boarder collie and will walk slightly ahead, angled to the right and directs the path other cats are going. In my summation you only need one cat, but cat herding grows on you and if left unchecked.........., remember that Star Trek episode with the trivets or what ever they're called and they teleported them to the Klingon vessel?

There is one amusing distro that always seems to get my attention, that is Puppy Linux. I guess because it is engineered differently than other distros. In particular, this was Minisys Linux or Muppy. It looks like this........

Engineered differently is exactly what attracts me (besides looks). It doesn't use .rpm or .deb packaging systems, it has it's own as Puppy fans are familiar with and it is fast. I am not going to install it though I am tempted, I am quite happy with Ubuntu, but as a portable Linux it is very interesting. Oh, it has this............. when you want to change your desktop GUI in Ubuntu, you have to do it before you login. Fedora makes this a tad easier, but Muppy does this on the fly. Fickle me (I learned it from the cats!), loves this and I wish all Linuxes would do this. Muppy comes in four sizes from full to mini or from Rottweiler to Chiwawa. Ya like dogs, eh?

Here are some links to get software for your Ubuntu system.

Gnome files , Ubuntu Software , Get Deb

I do have some views about Linux and computers in general. The laptop is becoming the standard computer that most people buy these days. Linux needs to work harder on both the modem and wireless. All hardware producers need to be greener, pushing for lead free and maybe oil-free plastics. Low power yet high performance it not totally impossible. I would like to see more laptops with swappable components similar to desktops, maybe a laptop like unit without a display, I already have a LCD display. On the software side, Puppy can switch GUI's on the fly, that should be standard. And I was wondering if USB memory is as fast as on board system RAM and could be used for memory expansion. USB memory is so much cheaper than RAM sticks. I should take time to figure this out, cats and curosity you know!

Day to day Linux use is as boring as day to day MS Windows if you never peek under the hood. But fussing and tweaking and muttering to myself is what makes computing fun. Come on, you play with TV remote, the microwave buttons, cellphone, PDA and the doorbell.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The view from here.

Been out observing the winds of change here in Linuxville and it's more than falling leaves that litter the landscape. I am still not working, the economy is shaky at best and I am wondering if it will all work out over time or mutate into the unimaginable.

The first revelation was that the world economy is based on black gold, oil. Not just for fuel, also the chemical component of many products from dyes, fertilizer, plastics of all sorts, you name it. Coal is also a part of this, in fact the use of fossil fuels is choking us, snubbing out life, slowly, under our nose. We have treated these resources as if they were the promised abundant energy, fresh and clean. The reality is the opposite. The mesh of psychology and legal entanglements and money invested prevents many from seeing the truth of outcomes. There is a global awakening and concern as to what has happened to us because of fossil fuel dependence.

The politicians here in America are so reluctant to push the process to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. They say foreign oil independence at the same time drill at home to replace it. There is so much infrastructure committed to coal and oil, you can't expect change of the magnitude that is actually required. There is too much money, fortunes, and minds committed to what we now have.

There needs to be a shift of moneys to non-oil and non-coal based research and adding non-fossil fuel technology and tamping that technology down into the fabric of everyday living. Help, I am sounding like Al Gore! Well, the crisis is real, but we can take steps to do our part. First you need an education, I'll leave that part up to you. Then how you spend your money reinforces your support one way or the other. Don't over look the vote thing.

In Linuxville, we have one thing that a big part of the world doesn't, that is a community that shares knowledge of computing technology. While it may not be the model of business success, it does prove that a body of shared knowledge can exist along side of proprietary knowledge bases. Some info should be kept closed, but some must be shared, aired, open for use by all.

I see many countries racing to get wind, solar and other non-fossil fuel resources because they can be applied to any strata of society and they don't have to make war to secure energy. If folks the world over can get wind and solar, part of the world's turmoil would be solved. We still have to contend with ourselves.

I was pondering what is green computing. I can see computers made from less volatile materials, even plastics made from organic substances and using less power. Please recycle your CRT monitors and get LCDs and use all the Energy Star features. I guess laptops use less energy than desktops and turning stuff off when not used would save some cash over time.

I heard that with money funny for everybody, Linux and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) might suffer. There is talk that the demand for funds for free software is on the horizon. These things, I don't know. Linux and FOSS have been such a force of sustainability for years and just might survive in the background as it always has. Well, we shall see what develops and what direction we go. Stay tuned for more of "as the world turns!"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

seeing the light of day

The cave of wonders is immense, you could get lost down there, but what happens when you realize few have seen it. When you hit the light of day folks all around you are misinformed or not knowing, you cock your head back, let out an aspirating cry,"Am I the only one?"

I was on a web site called It is a meeting place for Northeast Ohio folks to sling ideas around and report on how we can or are fixing things in our area. The site is a big supporter of FOSS that is Free and Open Source Software. Linux is included but FOSS will run on many operating systems. So while you Linux lovers may bang your heads against the MS ceiling, FOSS has burst through long ago. This is great because as I have said, once you have settled on an OS, it is the applications that really matter. And lots of users are unaware of the diverse riches of FOSS.

Let's paint some pictures........

There is this thing called user inertia that says users tend to get stuck on the things they are introduced to, things they are familiar with. This does not necessarily mean they have actual experience, a name brand is a powerful thing. The holders of the brand name do all they can to bolster up your loyalty and faith in the name regardless as to whither they deliver a quality product to you or not. Your loyalty is a pledge of revenue. After you have found this name brand stuff useful, you don't give it up without a fight.

FOSS enters the picture. Many software writers have written free programs since computers became personal. People learning to code, exploring and experimenting and not caring about a killer app that folks will pay hundreds for. There developed a second software model, collaborative development but not for profit, not propriety, not access controlled, not, not, not.
The reality is that there are FOSS that do the exact same things that for a price software does. Computer savvy folks all know these things but many typical off the shelf buyers don't. And making folks aware of FOSS is a challenge as folks are not aware, misinformed or loyal and committed to the other stuff.

FOSS covers a lot of issues that for profit companies are against. Free and open access to information is the leading reason, via file formats that are not to one vendors specs so that you can share info without a particular vendor's software. This also includes fonts so that documents look the same in any word processor, web page and email, and web sites that any web browser can access correctly. I think there should be a set of computer formats and fonts that no company can change and they must be included by law in every software. This way if people want to use propriety formats they can and if they want to use free access rated formats and fonts, they can. Free access rated, what's that? PDF files are a perfect example, but DOC files not. DOC files though a business standard are subject to change at the whim of Microsoft, which is why there are so many versions of DOC.

What does FOSS have to do with you? You may think a VW convertible Bug is a poorman's sportcar, but the top is down, the enjoyment high and the payments are right with no skimp on quality. I've said this before, you want to be a digital artist and Photoshop is $400+ dollars and you put off your dreams because of price or criminalize yourself. GIMP is free, has many of the same tools and features and allows you to exercise and sharpen your skills while you are saving up to get the pro-ware. I bought a HP desktop, came with MS Works, a usable but incompatible with MS Office, home office suite. I was always doing my homework and resumes in the wrong file format. Then not using or needing the whole MS Office package for my occasional use, I couldn't see buying MS Office, even the student edition was too much. Open for free will do all what MS Office will does. If you don't need all the advanced features that MS Office claims to have, you really aren't beholden to MS to use or buy their product.

FOSS and the digital divide are made for each other. Folks want to give older computers to needy folks and use no longer supported software that will be on them. Sure they get connected but why give your junker to someone you are trying to help. FOSS will run on older, even MS powered (Win95/98,XP) computers, be up to date and the cost is zero.

Training is a big thing as you need skills to work. I tell people over and over, computer skills are transferable. Schools are saying you need to learn this because this is what is used in business and they train you to use an industry standard product, like Microsoft stuff or Adobe. I learned to type in high school, no one ever said the typewriter we are learning on is the industry standard. I could and did transfer the skills to any keyboard. If your budget doesn't allow you to obtain the software they use in business or at school, FOSS gives you the ability to hone the skills you need without spending a single buck.

Funny how in Northeast Ohio, where I live, with all the computer groups, software users organizations, libraries and schools, FOSS is neither promoted or taught. If commercial software is the key to the digital divide, then why ain't the divide disappearing? People who use and love commercial software really don't have a mind or time for anything else. We really need to identify the FOSS community here, outline ways to learn FOSS, gather materials, videos, make courses and present them to the different layers of the teaching/learning community.

As I sit here at the Linuxville desk, rubbing my eyes and adjusting to the light of day, I realize FOSS is an overlooked and under realized solution to many problems a computer could fix. The freedom of access, the learning of skills and doing useful practical stuff at minimum cost and a tiny little learning curve make FOSS an endless wave you could surf for miles.

Monday, October 06, 2008

cave of wonders, the catacombs

Underneath the town of Linuxville is not only the history of Unix but also room after room down a long corridor. The rooms, 400+ are distros, all similar to some degree but different. On a source code level, you could never get lost as long as you had your handy compiler. On the surface things are more defined for the type of user. Some rooms are so similar, closer inspection is the only way to see they are different. As you know, I am a Ubuntu kind of guy and have tried most of the Ubuntu flavors, but I started out with Slackware and Red Hat. Now Red Hat has the non-commercial focused Fedora distro. I have installed Fedora 9 on the same drive I have Ubuntu on. My Fedora uses the Gnome desktop. You can't tell if you are using Ubuntu or Fedora except for the little icon indicating where the menu is. Yeah, using the same desktop GUI does that. The desktop GUI is the same and under that both the Linux and the communities behind them are just a tad bit different. Ubuntu has Canonical, Fedora has Red Hat, Ubuntu is Debian (.deb), Fedora is Red Hat Packaging Manager (.rpm). You can argue all day about the advantages of each. I could recommend either, no sweat. So, with philosophical and minor technical differences you might find either will do what you need to do and still get support. My impression is that Ubuntu is a newer and global out reach, Fedora is an established, well known system, almost a standard worldwide for Linux. It is a good thing the pool of applications are the same for either system, albeit it is said that Debian based software repositories have more stuff. If you are looking for work here in the US like yours truly, the Red Hat brand is more familiar to server folks and engineering folks. Knowing Fedora ins and outs puts you in the ballpark for Admin work. You know, businesses like to channel you to a brand-named experience, do you know Red Hat, Suse or.........whatever. And alas, there are not enough Linux businesses or home users for a vibrant and profitable Linux based PC support person. Besides, from my experience so far, Linux runs great so there is less need for Linux support once it is setup. But users could still use the help and I could use the work.

Monday, September 29, 2008

annexing the cave of wonders

Let's see, according to it's legendary beginnings Unix has been with us in some form since the days of machine code. Unix is still a workhorse for many "big iron" machines. It is so strange that the child of Unix known as Linux casts such a little shadow, given the popularity of the PC. Big Iron companies laughed at the PC idea which grew into a new market to be swept up by S. Jobs and B. Gates. I don't know why Torvalds didn't jump into the fray with them. It had to be timing, place and a different vision. It's the results that matter and the outcomes of three directions we deal with today suggest they did not stray from the paths they choose. Mr. Jobs packaged and marketed a hardware and software product. Mr. Gates markets a software solution for the hardware made by others. Finally Mr. Torvalds designed and maintains a kernel upon which the whole of Linux is built by others and runs on hardware built by others, mostly for free, mostly by word of mouth and internet. On a large scale Linux is not marketed like Microsoft products or Apple's, instead Linux lives on the internet inline with how it began. You won't find many Linux books in smaller libraries and no commercials on TV. Linux exist on the net, in the comings and goings of an active community. Linux is always being updated, tweaked, patched, revised and rewritten. Books tend to get out of date fast, especially if they have the live-cd in the back. Still if your local library has zilch and by chance has interlibrary loans like ours does, you just might be in luck. So if you really want to know what Linux is before you jump in or forget about it, look up these books. Ubuntu Linux for Non-Geeks by Rickford Grant is a great book with lots of details and yet not technical. Show and tell, yet not technical. The other book is Moving to Ubuntu Linux by Marcel Gagne'. Marcel has been "Cooking with Linux" for years and knows all the secrets. If you live in my neighborhood, you can't get'em till I'm done.
Well that's all for now, gotta run to Linux class, later

Friday, September 26, 2008

Homeland Security begins at home.

When gov folks talk of homeland security, they immediately refer to threats from outside our borders. It's so apparent that gov policies, postures, stances and attitudes all contribute to the tensions expressed by people who are involved and then it's all aggravated by the media, giving us the play by play. But threats and intrusions come at us a number of ways and many don't require a misplaced nuke. If you own a computer, have online accounts and privileged access, you should be concerned with something called "the password". Shhhhhhh........., it's a secret that every user harbors and unfortunately easy to circumvent. A birthday, a pet name, even a social security number are commonly used to protect vital info. If you make it too cryptic, you yourself can't remember it, so you use reverse encryption and spell your name backwards. I am so surprised that with all the computers in use that the gov didn't insist that each citizen would install secure passwords to protect and cover ourselves. On our side we say we couldn't remember all the passwords to all the things we need them for. Yes, we could write them down, keep them hidden but handy, but that too is risky. I say go ahead, write them down, but lock them away somewhere away from your computer. Then employ a password safe on your computer. What's a password safe. It is a program that stores your passwords in a file/database in a highly encrypted format and either allows you to see the required password when needed or fills in the required password when needed. Access to this feature is often hidden behind a master password which should be cryptic but, you only have to remember one of them. So with the layers of encrypted strong passwords, you have adequate defence against intrusion and theft.
Most average folk are not under direct threat, but you just might be lucky. And you should know that these intruders don't guess your passwords, they use computers, so you should make it hard for them.

Ubuntu Linux has a few password safes or managers, I am looking at one called KeepassX. This was made for MS windows platforms years ago, is now open source and has a Linux version, hence the "X". Installation is too easy but how to use it must be a secret because I can't seem to find a tutorial on the home page or the project site. For more info go to and to get a partial instruction check out this blog, Keepassx password manager.

So, the trick is to make your easily guessed passwords sound like Charlie Brown's mother, "Wah, wah, wah, wah!?!", then hide them behind another encrypted password. Do copy them down but store them elsewhere, off site preferred. Being safe takes a little practice, may be a bit inconvenient, but in the end you have one less backside to cover.

This is your Linuxville guide with this security bulletin and public service announcement. Please deadbolt your routers, PC's and padlock your mouse to the desk.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zen and the art of...............

Hey folks, I just turned 57 and I am thinking about lessons learned that you pixel-pushers can appropriate. Doing art of any kind on the computer does require personal skills not directly taught in the classroom but they are significant none the less. We as a society are caught up in a web of instant gratification, fast answers, fly-by's, hit and run and browse. Clipart was the thing for a while and you can download many user graphic files, but to do your own......... I think this is especially true when approaching Linux and open source software after using popular MS platform stuff for a time, being convinced of their necessity and perfection. OR you are approaching this stuff for the first time and you have overwhelming questions. This is where zen comes in. You've got to push aside all the noise and actually learn to use the software. As you sit transfixed on your computer screen the world around you fades away and you enter a serendipity and splendor no one knows but you. But I know you want it like on the Matrix movie, an instantaneous download, a gasp and an outcry "I know Ubuntu". Come on folks, that's dream stuff. I can't tell you how many artists I know who go into seclusion to re-hone skills, perfect a technique or learn a new art form. You have to take time to be alone with it, to see how you and it can work together, to collaborate, to make magic. You have to spend the time.
This is the enigma of art, the sacrifice of learning. There is the pain of learning and we feel it because it's inconvenient and constant (teens know this), it changes all of our world view and we out grow things, we change.

Back in the near past, you learned by pouring over manuals and viewing screen shots, then came powerpoint presentations. Today we have those things plus video tutorials. To be able to see the application in action while it's being explained and even being able to open the app and work along side is the clincher. Once you say to yourself,"I think I can do this" you can begin to ask "and how do I do this also?". We have gone from trails of breadcrumbs to trails of loaves. Look on that rock, is that a sandwich and ice tea? In any case, someone has gone before you and prepared a meal for your enjoyment and it's free. There are a number of graphics apps in Linux, these are the big three on my desktop.

Blender 3D is a wonderful though slightly complex modeling and animation program. The Blender web site has instructional videos that are very good. Also checkout the Blender Underground for a start.

GIMP folks can check out Biehl on line tutorials, this is one of many.

Inkscape users can go to Hot Buttered IT

I also have Xara Xtreme and K-3D which have video tutorials too. Videos are great because sometimes describing a workflow with text can be combersome. Seeing what to click and what to expect afterwards clears up a lot of newbie nerves. And you all know what a picture's worth, right? So, at a time when schools aren't teaching what you are interested in, cost are too high, time is limited and professional software way too expensive, you can get for free what you need to learn the tools of the trade. No, Photoshop is not a tool, it is an application. In it there are tools, brushes, vector curves, gradients, fills, strokes, etc., stuff you can also find in GIMP and Inkscape. Learn how to use them for free and transfer that knowledge to Photoshop if you need to. Beats starting from scratch and being in debt at the same time. Think about it, then go for it!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

guide to overcoming user inertia

Had to replace the kitchen faucet, looks so simple to swap the new for the old. Things I didn't count on hindered me. The new unit is improved over the old one, but you have to remove the old one first. There was no room to get a wrench in there so I had to remove the sink from the counter. The sink hold down clips were also in awkward places. OK, I got those clips off, the sink out and the old faucet unmounted. I didn't mention I also had to disconnect the drains and close the water supply lines. Putting the new stuff in was easy but there were details so like a good boy I read the instructions. I looked at the recommended order of assembly, counted the parts and took note of the no wench warning. A no wench warning? Seems some users would tighten too much. Then I put it all back together and it worked fine except it leaked. All the twisting of flexible and swivel connections and my finger tight fittings at the faucet end worked themselves loose. Being a better design than the previous faucet, I could reach up into the tight space to unscrew the faucet. I carefully tightened the fittings (using a wrench) and remounted the assembly. It works fine.
I wrote all this to say a few things concerning software, especially Linux and open source software. It may not look like what you are use to seeing, yet have the same tools or functions. It may cost less, be free or not be what is in popular use. But just because you are unfamiliar with it doesn't mean it's inferior, lacking in quality or too hard to learn. What is helping me, because I dislike reading manuals, is the instructional videos on the web. I know how hard it is for some to admit you don't understand, can't figure it out or don't get the logic. Manuals aren't for dumb people but are a shortcut for smart people to save the time and aggravation of having to figure it out. Instructional videos are even better, they give you a chance to see how it works with explanations in real time.
I am beginning to play with the graphics apps on my Ubuntu Linux machine. I have Inkscape, GIMP, Blender3D, K-3D and a few others. The videos save me from hours of reading and static screenshots. I used Rhino3D on XP but was afraid of Blender3D because the interface is so different. The videos are taking away that fear, I am beginning to comprehend what's going on there. It is the same with GIMP and Inkscape, the videos make the approach sane. Making instructional videos is quite an art, so I extend my thanks to all you who spend time explaining step by step how to use these applications so I can learn. So you see, here is the Linuxville guide getting guided by other guides, cool.

Friday, September 19, 2008

the world according to Arno

If you've worn the same glasses for years and think your vision is just fine thank you, then it's time for an upgrade. Perhaps your vision has degraded and you've gotten use to it. I was thinking of GM and the announcement of the Volt. It really looks sharp and engineered to the hilt. But wait, there are problems afoot that shorten my praise. In this country we like to argue the extremes, then pick the lessor of two evils. We bash the middle ground as being too much or not enough. Then with great fanfare and apologies we reluctantly accept a somewhat more viable solution from the middle.

Batteries suck, always have, always will and putting more than one in a car is a portable environmental disaster in a neighborhood near you. Can you imagine the impact of millions of car batteries needing to be recharged/recycled, talk about hazardous waste!! And I thought old tires were bad. I guess we can bury them next door to the nuke waste. And can the present power grid handle all the electric only cars recharging or will we all have to buy not so green gas powered generators to charge up our car batteries? How to charge your car after a storm knocks out the power will be a best seller book.

We have had diesel electric trains for years now. The systems are not that complex and they haul much of our country's resources. A diesel engine, an alternator for the accessories and one for the drive motors, and the drive motors and drive electronics. You mean we can't put similar in trucks and cars. The hybrid is the best solution. An alternative fueled and efficient power generating unit and electric motor combo is a wise/less costly solution. We won't have to rebuild infrastructure or change personal driving habits or give financial institutions more means to enslave us. Personally I don't like poop scooping for my dog/cat or plugging in my car, daily.

Dear GM, even you can't afford this car, the Volt. There are not enough upper middle class folk who can or will buy your car so you can recoup your investment and I, average American car buyer, can buy 3 gas guzzlers (from you) for what the Volt would sell for.
Here's what you can do to save us and you:
1. Develop an auto recycling industry that reclaims materials for new uses instead of maintaining old cars, (old steel mills will do). Quit building the present gas guzzling cars. Watch the movie, "Who killed the Electric Car?" and deliver the same fate to the gas guzzler, boy would that be ironic!!
2. Develop programs to trade our gas guzzlers in for a greener alternative, and don't resell or export. Did I say recall?
3. Develop incentives, discounts, tax credits, insurance cuts, in other words, lower the cost of living to own a hybrid vehicle.
4. Gas guzzling car commercials have got to stop. Can't imagine green if we don't see green on TV. Popular faces should drive green on TV.
5. Let your workers get them, drive them, show them off and post their unscripted opinions on the web.
6. Lose the trickle down game plan. Build for a targeted tad lower than middle-class market as the basic standard affordable product. Fuel the amenities and accessories after-market. If affluent folks (a smaller market) want more car, build it later. Build up don't dumb down.

What has this got to do with Linux and open source. In principle we have been life long consumers who leave it to the pros to design and deliver products, yet they keep an eye on us to see what we do with their products. Some very innovative ideas have come out the back yards of car owners. The race tracks and car shows are full of them. Then they borrow, buy or steal the ideas and decide if they should be shelved or marketed. Why patent an idea not to use it or keep others from using it? I am glad there is Linux and open source, not owned by a company, I have rights to tweak and play with. And if I discover a new use or process, I have opportunity to do something new and different. Will car technology become so sophisticated that dealers will lock the hood? Will cars become so expensive that leasing is the only option? Will we become paying users of home, car and software, instead of owners? Has the market accessed our potential life time worth and priced ownership just out of our reach to fuel the market? There are more questions to ponder while sitting here at the Linuxville desk................

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

real world and virtual world collide

As a young teen really wanting a car filled my dreams. In the mail I would get this aftermarket car catalog "Whitney's". It was thick and full of fuzzy dice to bored and stroked engines. I used to mark it up with pencils, then pens, then highlighters, then markers. You could buy the parts to build a car from scratch. My favorite was the sports car built on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis. If you thought Pokeymon geeks were bad, you haven't known car geeks. Anyway, this is what Linux is like, a computer aftermarket. The only thing missing is the catalog. If the internet were not here, there would be a thick catalog, listing and describing all the parts. You would know what Linux is, how the parts work together and how to get it the way you want it. Actually if you know where to look the internet resources are quite good.

What's on the Linuxville guide's real desktop these days? Besides my excursion into the annals of computer graphics history, I am looking at the kinds of art that can be produced on a computer. Beyond digital photos, web pages, ad art, banners, game design, animation and special effects, if you have intent to print, there is still a lot. I have also discovered that if you plan to do more than web surfing and email you might need more computer resources than average users need. Graphics tend to be memory hogs the more complex they are.

Been library hopping lately. Even though I can reserve a book from anywhere in the system and have it delivered to my local branch, I am disappointed by what I see on the physical shelves. Book procurers only buy mostly MS windows related books. This is in spite of how many people already know about MS Windows in good detail. Linux which is free to own and use gets very little shelf space. I am not so worried about Linux as it lives on the web. But free and open source applications get even less shelf space. The GIMP books are rare, Open books are also rare. People use public libraries as a free resource, yet when they get there only find books about the most expensive software in the world. Talk about opportunities lost to lift and educate the masses. The reference librarian should be quick to say if you don't have this software try this open source one. Then I must complain about the Photoshop presence. The computer graphics sections has tons of Photoshop books then also again in the digital photography section. Two subjects not covered in my travels, digital art as in actual drawing/sketching and digital painting as in fine art. Yeah, you can find comic/game animation, sometimes computer fantasy art, but far too many digital photography books. Books you do find are on a professional level, not beginner or intermediate levels. Libraries should be in the educational opportunity and idea possibility business. Linux, open source software, computer art and design all fit into these themes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

spitting out ideas

I always thought that in the present times of generational confusion and economic limitations it's good to see what you can do with what you already have. The caveat is that we want something new and not a remake, retro or sequel. So I am proposing a few ideas.

1. Instead of chanting foreign oil independence with the motive of maintaining present oil use levels, preach conservation, industries, materials, processes and machines that use less oil. By using less we have more. How much oil does an electric car or hybrid use compared to a regular gas car used by a typical driver. We have diesel/electric trains but no diesel/electric trucks. Now multiply all that times all the cars and trucks on the road. It's basically the marketing folks who think we can't or won't change.

2. To give you geeks something to do, how about a wing processing unit. Instead of buying a whole new computer and ditching or recycling the old one, a wing processing unit could plug into existing computers to add processing power. Dyne:bolic Linux has the ability to move processing load to faster networked computers. The wing processing unit only needs a cpu, memory, ethernet, maybe a CD player and would appear as a tiny server. I could keep my present desktop a lot longer and just upgrade/replace/add a wing processing unit. Less waste all around and cheaper to build.

3. Beam me up Scotti! A new wireless phone attachment, not the Borg-like ear piece but a lapel badge/shoulder pin. I could stay at my computer in the other room and not chase after the handset when it rings. Also being a comm link I could tell my wife I got it with out yelling through out the house. Would be great at an office too.

4. On the desktop the browser could be the front end to the operating system and access the whole computer. It could be customized like a web page, use icons, links, whatever, yet be the internet browser and file manager like KDE's Konqueror only better.

The Linux class explored DSL and Puppy Linux and we did it through Virtualbox on a Vista machine. Although Linux is exciting in any form to me, Virtualbox does present limitations that require tweaking so it's not in the way. Vista did as it was supposed to do, present us with the blue screen of death when the system crashed. Virtual machines can be touchy at times. DSL or Damn Small Linux is only 50mg on a CD and can be easily put on a jump drive. You would be impressed at the applications included in this really portable Linux. Puppy is Puppy, fresh, agile and quite complete. I just got a version of Puppy called Grafpup, just right for the graphics minded, like yours truly. By the experience of the class DSL and Puppy ran just fine from the live-CD or installed on a hard drive. Oh, I didn't mention ReactOS which is supposed to be an open source version of MS Windows. It was interesting to see and even though it's in the early stages of development some promising stuff is there. It probably would have run better out side of Virtualbox also.

On a personal note, I am trying to find time to get my artistic act together. The many public libraries have a zillion books on Photoshop, Illustrator and other Microsoft platform software. The latest Linux and graphics applications are documented and explored on the web, the libraries have near nothing. Shame on them. You have to realize that Linux was born on the web and lives on the web to this day. But at the library I did find many books about the history of computer graphics and computer art. Yes, there was computer art before Mac, MS, Photoshop and all that. I laugh at young people for what they don't know that was started just before "their time". No, the chisel and stone was before my time too.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

lipstick on pigs and pitbulls, a true standard

Lipstick on a pig is a funny expression in America. Dressing up the same old thing as a new and exciting product is common practice. You already invested lots of resources, you believe so strongly in your product and you can't see anything wrong with it, yet people are complaining about it. So, you repackage it, describe it as something people want and hope they don't notice. This link is to an NPR story, a farmer who tried to actually put lipstick on a pig.

Let's look at the problems. Pigs aren't very attractive, pigs don't have lips, people tend to eat pigs, pitbulls might look better than pigs, don't have lips either, have potential to bite their masters and neighbors. Of course I am eluding to the upcoming election but the trend is a common practice. Microsoft is using the sitcom comedian Seinfeld as lipstick for his pig and the Big 3 American car makers are pushing gas burning new cars as "greener" (green lipstick, yuck!). There is quite a list on which people are smearing the lipstick these days. If you have that kind of mind, you might think lipstick is an improvement, but there is something deceiving here. In a country that boast in technical prowess, inventiveness and more educated people per square mile, we certainly have a lot of pig salesman and lipstick peddlers. Oh, and don't forget, visionary people who put the two together.

I talk about many things but Linux mainly. If some company were to advertise Linux, thus marketing Linux as a product, would it become the posterchild for the whole Linux world? Would it represent or define what Linux is in the minds of would be users? Would people have an expectation of what Linux should be because some brandname product has set the standard? Would ad folks find ways to say Linux is a pig or pitbull so they could put lipstick on it? Truth be told, Linux is just the kernel. You could possibly fit it on a floppy disk. Hey, you could embed the kernel in the flashROM on the motherboard!! No, motherboards would no longer be useful for any OS of your choice and if Linux were a brandname we'd probably have to ditch the word "distro".

A friend hip me to Artweaver, a MS windows only program. It has two main features, it's free and it looks like Photoshop. Some folks are applauding it, some are bashing GIMP instead. Looking like Photoshop and being free seems to be a winning combo, yet GIMPshop takes the hits because it's still GIMP, go figure. GIMPshop is GIMP with the tools arranged to look like Photoshop. In this case free and like Photoshop is not winning, hummmmm....... It's really too bad comedians can't screen their audiences. Ever wonder how they smuggle in a sack of tomatoes to throw. I think the solution is simple. Make the Photoshop style interface the standard then have a button you can push to switch to the traditional GIMP desktop, if you want it. As for Artweaver, sorry, it's not really free or close to being free until an open source Linux version comes out. Look at Xara Xtreme. You have to ask if you need a conversion program for files to work with the other programs you are using.

The Linux class is going great, exploring the live-CD OS is fun. It is cool to hear what others have discovered and get their spin on it. One person is looking at ReactOS, a couple more at Puppy, DSL and whatever. It is hard to get all the best or preferred stuff in one distro, we like to emphasize different things. So read the instructions that say your basic "kit" includes this, build and adjust to suit and don't forget mileage may vary. I did Dyne:bolic Linux last class, it was fun and it has features I wish were in Ubuntu.

I have this view of Linux. The kernel is the part that can be compiled to run on any machine and orchestrates the interaction between the other parts (also compiled to suit), the libraries and utilities and user interface and the applications. All the pieces and parts may run great in some situations or poorly thus distros have been devised of stuff that work great together. It may be cosmetic (different GUI), an arrangement set for a purpose (server/desktop) or a hardware requirement (32 bit Intel/64 bit AMD) or a language/cultural thing that sets a distro apart. You the user can start by selecting a distro that seems right for you and adjust it for a better fit. I also believe from a user's side certain things should be transparent to any OS. Common fonts and file formats should be released from the control of any computer OS platform company. My documents should look great in any application, on any platform and in any web browser, and I should be able to move data without application specific conversion, between similar programs. The SVG format and the FLI formats are examples, different apps have different implementations of the same standard, thus they are not really standards, right! Come on folks, it's what the user uses that should be a standard.

On the Ubuntu front, Mark Shuttleworth has put out the call to all developers to sell their lipstick stock and put real effort into making Ubuntu look as good if not better than Vista and Mac OS. I am glad they won't waste time trying to discover which new mascot looks good in lipstick or a grille of human dentures. I think integrating all the effects of compiz was fun as in graffiti, but polish is more a fine art. Let's see Suse's got green, Mandrivia's got yellow, Fedora's got blue, Ubuntu's got brown, hey isn't that like branding, having a signature desktop? The default desktop is big stuff, it makes the first impression and sets the tone. Brown needs lots of help.
Ubuntu users need to weigh in, not complain, but offer alternatives, solutions and ideas. That's the Linux way.