Wednesday, July 30, 2008

doing digital stuff

Hey folks, this is back where we started when I first blogged. I displayed some art work and was curious about Linux. We took in the sights and sounds and explored some of the behind the scenes. So as we move on further into this adventure, I really hope you are still as curious as I am. One thing I have to hammer in is that there are NO Linux experts, just very knowledgeable nerdy types who need to be refreshed now and again. Linux is continuously evolving as well as the user base. I want to remind server people not to teach desktop people their skills as a prerequisite to learn Linux. It is ironic that system admins have to know so much, yet Linux will run for years without intervention, if nothing goes wrong. Desktop people don't have to know so much, just some basic concepts on top of pointing and clicking. And my constant reminder, Linux is Linux is Linux, holds true. While the various distributions or versions of Linux are not interchangeable in a compiled form, they share and use the same source code on a lower level. Sort of like cars, same format, different styles, etc, etc, etc. The whole point of Linux or any other operating system is the applications so that you can do digital stuff. YouTube had a tidal wave of vids showing off Linux with compositing effects, whirling cubes with active movies on it's sides, loud grinding music, wobbly windows and sigh........ means nothing if the word processor doesn't work and the CD player doesn't play. The applications are what allows you to do digital stuff. Linux gives you such liberty to do digital stuff with industry standard tools. The tools themselves are standard. They can be found in the marketed namebranded applications on other operating systems as well, but usually Linux packages them and includes them when you install Linux, for free. Then you've got to work on your concept of what free is. It is not like the early days. The software developers are in the market for high paying jobs, why should they put out shoddy software with their own reps at stake. Free and open source software is like a resume, a sample of their fine work and dilligent effort. These folk are not all working for nothing. The focus is to produce computer tools that allow you the user to have a freedom of movement, a freedom of access, a freedom of computer platform and freedom from vendor lock. Case in point, the American car industry under the oil threat and small foriegn car competition has finally found it worth their while to redesign their product offerings. You as a computer user can now ignore both Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs if you choose to do so. Well, my soapbox is transforming into a stage, so let's move on........
Doing digital stuff is what it is all about. The obvious thing is that computers allow you to view the work of others and then also do work your self. Be it a doc or an email or a photo or a drawing or music or video or, or, or, whatever......... Linux or in my case, Ubuntu Linux can do it all, no sweat. These days I am focused on art work. I was looking for a way to put my sketchbook on the computer and see what the drawing tools provided by Ubuntu Linux can do for me. I don't know who has progressed more, Linux or myself. The tools have improved and I have learned a thing about using them. In my digital artbox there is an application called Xsane which runs my scanner. It is a standalone program but I can work it from inside GIMP. This allows me to use GIMP tools along with scanning. Then I user another program I've mentioned before called Inkscape. Inkscape is a vector drawing app. We've already explained bit-mapped and vector graphics. I use Inkscape to convert bit-mapped to vector. I don't know how well it works on photos or sketchy sketches or color washed drawings but outlined art processes very well. It has been suggested that Draw, which also uses vector graphics might be useful. Draw is useful but limited. Draw is more suited for desktop publishing than for fine art. Inkscape has more tools and finer control over the drawing. There are also file formats differences.
I'm am designing a nameplate for promoting my artwork using Inkscape. Here is a sample of that work in progress...........
Well, needs work, but as you can see lineart works really well. Humm, maybe some color.....
Trying to do many scenerios on paper is time consuming and exhausting, but on the computer!!!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

the artist tool kit

Just like when you go to the theater and are awestruck at the visuals, you still can't fathom the behind the scenes activity that went into putting it all together. It is the same with most visual arts. On one side there is the disciplined training and determination of a practiced hand, then you spill the paint, step in it, "hey, that looks quite good". There is a flow of ideas, alternative ideas, adjustments, additions and deletions. These things are easy or difficult depending on the media. I have anguished over mistakes while painting with acrylics, they dry too fast and painting over painted areas is not the same textured surface anymore. With digital media I don't worry about drying time and the wonders of undo and remove are without bounds. I can add virtual textures or print it out on a textured canvas. Some even go through the trouble of simulating textured brush strokes. The outcome of most art is eventually digital. There might be an original oil painting, but sorry, you can only have a copy and lucky you if you own the original. Copies of most art today are usually prints. The process of making prints have evolved and improved over the years. You can capture the quality of any art work with a camera or a direct digital file and print it out on almost any material from glass to canvas to carpet. What has this to do with Linux? Your Linuxville guide, who also happens to dabble a little in art, has found that the digital artist tools found in Linux are quite good and very powerful and free. Not "free for personal use only", but really free. The GIMP is pretty cool if you can put down Photoshop envy for a while. I use the Gimp interface to access my scanner. I scanned most of my hand drawings and will use another application called Inkscape to trace the scanned images and turn them into vector images. Think of bit-mapped images as pictures made from grains of salt, tiny separate grains. Vector images are made of strings, outlining objects. It is easy to edit the strings. Also the strings are stretchy. You can blow it up to a larger size, keeping the same original proportions or bend and distort. The computer as an artist tool can be very automatic and/or hands-on to twiddle with minute details. The computer can help you to blend many artistic techniques, simulating traditional artist media or scanning or photographing or what ever. There is still a lot of controversy over how digital media is regarded. People haggle over monetary issues all the time. Should an oil painting be worth the same as a digitally produced picture? Then if the digitally produced copy is the exact same as the digitally produced original, what is the value of either and who owns the original? The market is not so much in the digital picture itself as it is formatting and producing the output. The same digital picture can be posted, plotted, or printed in any imagined way. Oh, I'm giving away all my secrets.......... Anyway there are a whole slew of services out there so you don't have to own the equipment yourself. You've got to get your name and work out there. Man, it's a crazy world. It is a sign of the times, the deskchair artist, the roving laptop artist, have arrived.

Friday, July 25, 2008

science, art, adventure in Linuxville

Years ago I read a science fiction story about some folks stranded on Mars after a failed rescue attempt. The backdrop was some ancient Martian ruins that resembled typical urban suburb dwellings on earth. As they waited for their own rescue, they eventually broke camp and found the ruins inviting and accommodating. They removed their space suits, made the most of their new surrounding. Soon they forgot all about rescue, settled into merging with the backdrop. Their blue eyes turned almond in color, their skin, a honey golden tan and they melted into the landscape. After some time, a rescue crew finally did come. They wondered what happened to those stranded people, saw the abandoned camp, then the ruins so inviting and accommodating!

On the surface Linuxville is the hot bed of excitement, controversy, discussion and consideration. Using Linux you settle into the backdrop, it is inviting and accommodating.
Shades of Garrison Keillor and Issac Asimov!!

One dream I had as a young man was to roam the world with my artist box filled with paint and a stack of clumsy canvases. It's kind of romantic. More so than whipping out a camera like a tourist, though I have know some pretty serious photo buffs. I could do the same with a laptop and digital camera. The technology has changed, the metaphor remains the same. Having been a draftsman for years has degraded my appreciation for realism though. I am wrapped in a world of lines and how they represent things. An artist touching on new media is the most thrilling thing in the world. People who view and buy art don't always know what went into making the end product, usually they just like what they see. To the artist it is the process, the action of doing it, then the drama of display. In my exploration of the Linux desktop via Ubuntu 8.04, I have discovered free and open source artist tools. The GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is like the popular Photoshop, but different. Then Inkscape, a program like Adobe Illustrator, also different. They sport the same tools as their counterparts and have plug-ins and extensions that make for custom functions. Having played with pen and ink, paint, pencil and other things, I am excited to be able to emulate the same qualities and looks and then use the computer to find new constraints or dissove limitations. You might have more regard for traditional art materials and methods, I can understand that, but you need more than one lifetime to master both the old stuff and the new, if you still want a normal life to boot. How many prodigies do you know? It's better to learn the old and timeless principles and apply them in new ways with the tools you have at hand. This is coming from a not so old guy! I am not "dissing" painters and such, I still admire those with those talents and abilities, I'm just being real in a world of change and possibilities. Blending and bending is the keyword these days. Like the movie "Remo Williams, the adventure continues!!"

Monday, July 21, 2008

Linuxville School of the Arts

Let's see, you took the red pill, went down the rabbit hole and woke up in a whole different place called Linuxville. You've committed to being strapped in to learn as much as you can absorb. The slender neural-net spike inserted, you try to relax but the mixture of not knowing what to expect, curiosity and anticipation makes it all impossible. There is a surge, blinding rapid eye movements and an anguished gasp for air, you cry out, "Man, I know Ubuntu!!" OK, let's see what you got.........

When I worked for a NASA contractor, I met with a small group of guys who wanted to explore Linux. We decided to start having meetings and open it up to other designers and engineers. There were no questions about what is Linux, just can I do this and can I do that. We didn't know that much about Linux ourselves yet we were grilled as if we were experts. Our various interests in Linux at the time did not include user applications. Except for myself, the interest were in setting up a server with remote access and writing code for small devices. I was more interested in desktop functions and applications. That was back around 2004. A few years later, things have improved greatly and I know a little bit more. Besides having a full compliment of useful applications, Linux has been made flexible enough to accommodate a wide swath of equipment and users. You can use it briefly with a live-CD or be committed with a solid stable installation.

My latest adventure is to explore some of the graphic applications. I used to drool over watching people use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Corel Draw, even PhotoPaint and others that ran on the MS pc. Economics and priorities always came into play, so building up a software library was not in the cards for me. Today it is much different, open source has made a way to give decent software for low to zero cost. The quality of software is wondwerful because developers are also in the market for paying jobs at software companies. There is lots of incentive to put out good product. It's like in sport, your performance is being watched. Linux has boasted in the GIMP for a long time. GIMP is still taking critical heat from Photoshop vets. There are rapidly fading limitations with GIMP that make it an application to watch. It is very mature and stable. Another area where computer artist go crazy over is vector graphics. While Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and other big guns have swept the market, open source folks have put the same tools in various degrees into Draw, Sodipodi, Inkscape, Xara Xtreme and a few others I can't think of at the moment. So, you can get the tools, learn to use them for little to no cost and if you want the "pro-stuff" be familiar already in how to use them. With my intro into using these open source applications I don't see a need to own the industry standards. What is the standard part anyway, the tools or the brand-name?? As always people have their opinions, experiences and preferences. But open source gives you a wider cross-platform choice, see what works for you. The secret is that the tools are the same, skills are transferable and multiple interfaces can be learned, no sweat.

One of the things that has vexed me, tormented me since I started using a computer is transferring my pen and pencil skills onto it. In drafting it was a little easier because drafting relies on constraints and dimensions. Doing non-drafting stuff is so different. Using a mouse is like drawing with a bar of soap, and on top of that the mouse is on the pad, the eye/cursor is on the screen. The eye-hand coordination ability needs to be strengthened. I do have a "graphics tablet", with a wireless pen, but it is far too sensitive for my clumsy drawing technique and I've grown accustom to holding the mouse. I think I am more draftsman than a drawer or sketcher. Actually vector drawing works well with a mouse and the control over all the elements of the work is quite amazing. In the future we must consider a direct touch, draw on the screen display to see if that is more natural. Some laptops have that arrangement. The main thing is to fit your idea into the work flow to accomplish it. You will see you can always do things better, with less intermediate steps. Many think drawing on a computer is automatic or a creative crutch or not worthy of serious art. New tools and new media is always resisted with great pomp. Even Disney had to set up the new school next to the old school, then find a way to blend and upgrade at the same time. So now I am going to spend time figuring out how to put the stuff in my sketchbook onto my computer and make something happen. The most wonderful thing is that I am just a casual artist, doing it for fun. I can roam far and wide to the Linuxville city limits and with open source cross-platforms with the same shirt and shoes, roam some more.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

the secret of brand-X

You know in every movie you get a kick out of there is some scene that is memorable. The one where the Joker dressed as an artist goes through the museum with boom-box and spray paint making adjustments to great works of art in Gotham City. Or in Star Wars, Luke discovers "open source", I mean the force. He gets reminded by a whisper later " use open source Luke", I mean "use the force Luke". Obiwan says "you have entered into a wider reality" or something like that. In the DOS days, I remember the free trade of software. It was sporting to put your stuff out there for others to use and fiddle with. Soon however, this practice faded away. The software got better and user rights became pinched with price and user agreements and copyright restrictions. Software became marketable entities. Of course with continuing improvements and growing user base, prices go up also and user restrictions become binding but veiled threats (who reads those things anyway). There is word of mouth, ads, and of course comparisons. The psychological leverage of a name brand says that buying this you will succeed. Why then open source?, because guys with the best engineered sneakers in the world are consistently beaten by guys with running shoes made from recycled tire treads!!! Today you have a choice to spend the bucks or "borrow" a copy or get for free the means to manipulate a Bezier curve. If the Bezier curve is a standard in vector graphics, you are paying good money for what if the priced and free programs do the exact same thing. So you are aspiring to get into computer graphics, want to play with the tools before you commit big bucks for a "professional graphics suite", or you are considering putting it all on the back burner because you can't afford to get the "pro tools", yet. You need to change your thinking, open source is here to meet your aspirations and demands. Without the man, walking or running, a sneaker (any brand name) is just a foot covering. If you become great at Bezier curves, it doesn't matter the software that does them. So, in this corner, Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator, in the other, behind the brand-X mask, GIMP, Inkscape, Sodipodi, Draw, Scribus, Xara Xtreme to name a few. Let the developers compete, but you the user can reap the spoils because you are "the user".

There is a difference between computer aided drafting and fine art drawing. Drafting involves the accurate dimensions of things and diagrams closely tied to grids for neat efficient appearance. Fine art drawing on the computer is a lot of eyeball judgment. With fine art drawing, there are pen and tablet devices that are a little better than drawing with a mouse. But the main thing is the required methods to get things done I call a work flow. Work flows are how things are done, draw a line, adjust a line, erase a line. Then working with layers is so different than doing it on paper. The advantage is that you can isolate elements, adjust only those elements without effecting the elements on other layers. Say you have a background and a foreground with your picture. You could trim around your image so that the background would show through when viewed together. Then you could change either the foreground or background at your discretion.
The most wonderful thing on a pencil is a large eraser, on a computer it's undo and redo. Computers also allow you to cut, paste, drag, drop and other useful things that are very labor intensive on paper. You can setup a pretty snazzy art studio with a decent computer, some graphics applications, a scanner, color printer and a determination to fit your wild ideas into the constraints of work flows to express them. Constraints, what constraints? Well, if you are working in bit-mapped graphics or pixel graphics this is one thing. A bit or pixel say the size of the head of a pin when blown up will look like the tile on your bathroom wall. The little picture becomes a mosaic of colored squares. It resembles the original but is a blocky representation at best. Vector graphics on the other hand are computer generated end points. When you blow them up they retain the proportions of the original, no matter how big you make them. So, you can do a little vector drawing and print it out on a big format. We say it's scalable. The bit-mapped graphic closely resembles traditional art work with pencil or brush. Vector graphics is something born on the computer and uses the computer's math power to represent a picture.

In Linuxville, the tradition is not to make you a consumer, but give you the tools so that you can do things yourself. You can start doing stuff right away because all is free or low cost. And if you think I am trying to persuade you into the Linux fold, you are correct, but I recommend also you investigate open source software if you are inclined to stay with the Microsoft powered PC. Today there is no need for the wallet to limit your access to software and the skills to use them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

your Linuxville guide is back.......

He's suave, debonair, speaks a dozen languages. Then gets assigned to Africa, can't find anyone he can talk to. Africa has I think 800+ languages and dialects. Linuxville is not that extreme but the words tech savvy mean slightly different things here. If you will allow me to say, how dare you come to my city not having done a little research to know some basics. Oh, we can accommodate everybody, we have bright lights and swamp gas, sidewalks and dirt paths. The common word is that Linux will run on anything from a wristwatch to a mainframe but, it is not the same Linux that does it. Design limitations, yes, this is why there are Hardware Compatibility List and Hardware Support and forums, because users think they are James Bond acquiring a gadget from Q. Let me relax.......... The latest complaint I hear is for wireless support. Since you didn't buy your laptop with the first intent of installing Linux, you need to know what kind of luck other users have had with Linux on laptops. Go to, for a start and by all means buy an ethernet cable, there are times when it's OK to be tethered. Speaking of gadgets from Q, ever notice some are so amoured by technology, they will buy the most extreme thing on the market, then cry "CRAP" when Linux doesn't work on their machine. The object is to accommodate as many users as possible, at the same time giving them all the opportunity to choose from a wide assortment of equipment while being flexible and changeable and adjustable and reconfigurable, yet stable. You are getting this for free and you still complain. You are getting the Rolls Royce and complain, the hood is locked and too few cup holders. Perhaps Linux should have commercials like the Bill G and Steve J show, in the Bevis and Butthead format or penguins the likes of Coke commercials. I, the Linuxville guide get so frustrated by folks so trained on MS, switch to Macs and refuse to admit, "Hey, this is different". They come to Linuxville with this attitude also. Please, buy the books, get the videos, get the latest news, find out where Linux is today. Now, back to tech savvy. The reputation that Linux is hard because you have to type in commands is generated by folks who are use to doing it. If you want that, you can have it, but the desktop GUI you have known and loved and expected in other operating systems is now and has been for some time a prominent feature in Linux. Games, Linux has games, lots of games, just not MS games. To cap it all off, nobody is going to harass you for knowing and using more than one operating system. People have the ability to learn multiple languages all the time. You can actually use 11% of your brain. MS is OK, use it, Linux is OK if it is useful to you. Linux does offer different stuff, surprise!! My intent is to provoke you, slap your face, get that man or madame of the world glazed look in your eyes to focus. When in Linuxville the DOS born three finger salute doesn't work, the proper etiquette is ctrl-alt-backspace. If you ask nicely I have a chance to exercise my excellent mouse-side manner to assist you, redirect you, guide you in all the ways of Linuxville. What's it like settling into Linux? It's exactly like that Russell Crowe movie, "A Good Year"............

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Get it, Play with it, Learn it, Use it.

It's Sunday morning and I am getting ready for church. Some thoughts are flowing through my head so here's what I am thinking. I really think it is too bad computer users are so stuck in what they know. You buy a PC and are limited by what's available and what you can afford. Everybody wants high technology to all of a sudden appear in their community with jobs and supporting business. The threat of recruiting foreign folks to make it happen looms above us as we are agonized over the thought of competing for the few lower jobs. You got this thing on your desk and all you can see is something to play games on, play CDs, DVDs on and cruise the internet for entertainment. We have a local library which bills itself as "the peoples university". The PC in your home is the same way. It is a tool as much as it is a toy. While some would like you to be consumed with entertaining yourself, others are struggling to pull you away from that kind of mindless play. Play is the thing but we need to expand our play in creative ways. Learn to use the word processors to write well. Learn to use all the photo and paint tools to create works of art. Learn to program. The list of things you yourself can learn and develop is very long. The killer to your concept is that you don't need the top shelf software to begin. Why steal Adobe Illustrator because it is what the pros use. You could learn to use the very same tools and techniques for free with open source Xara Xtreme or Inkscape or Gimp. You could hone your skills and talents on less expensive software that does the very same thing. You might even find you don't need the "pro" software. If you learn the skills, you can use them on any similar software package. My main point is the play. Among the world of African-American artist, almost no computer artist, why? Artist are struggling to make a living and have flooded the world with traditional art of all kinds. I have nothing against traditional artist materials and outcomes. But, there is a whole digital realm besides film and animation that could use some fresh talent. So, fiddle with your digital paint or draw program and see what you can do. And you don't always have to sale your stuff to make it. Part of making it is name recognition, a fanbase of folks who appreciate your work. Screensavers, wallpapers and backgrounds are great avenues to get your work seen and hang your shingle. I, myself am not a driven artist, but I have been a computer draftsman for years, so I learned to use the computer. I have fiddled with a few 3d graphics programs. This is the result of some of that fiddling.........

This is a rendering of some 3d objects with special lighting in a program called Rhino 3d. Then here is another picture, this time from a paint program........
The paint program is bit mapped, more like traditional painting with brushes instead of the math driven vector graphics like in Rhino 3d. I also fiddle with other artistic software and I'm just fiddling. You, if you have the drive, the interest, you can do more and better. There are online tutorials, YouTube videos, ebooks and other teaching materials on the internet, no need to pay big money to began to learn and to do real play on the computer. It takes time to develop marketable skills and the tools are already in your lap. I am plugging open source software here because they are low cost and or free. Then I am pushing Linux because Linux is after all these years, easy to use and has a great assortment of free artist tools. Ubuntu Linux, the one I use, is well suited for a great swath of computer users. Included software cover all the normal uses and once installed you have access to a large catalog of free to download and install programs. My main concern is for all those who feel they must buy the latest MS Vista machine in order get into the computer game. Not so, an MS XP machine will do just fine as there are tons of open source software to run on it. Then you should know, chances are that Linux will even run on that hand-me-down computer you were given by your cousin. If it will run MS Win98, it will run Linux of some sort. I recommend at least 512MB of memory, but it will run on slightly less. Why Linux? If your computer is newer yet will not run Vista and you can not afford to upgrade or get XP, Linux is free and up to date. You just have to let MS go and let Linux supply your computing needs, which it can do very well. We are dealing with this thing called the "digital divide" which basically says it is economically a struggle for some to get into computing, get connected and bring their families into the electronic age. Linux cuts cost by lowering the entry bar. You can't get any lower than free. The kicker is that you have to spend time playing with it, using it, to see it is no different than using MS or Macs. Get Ubuntu Linux, they will even send you the CD for free if you can't download it. You could run it with or without installing it on your MS Windows machine because it's also a live-cd. There is help to figure it all out on the internet and there might be local computer shops and support groups to help you. Go get it, play with it, learn it and use it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Gnome makeover, move that bus

We users are so fussy and yet we want our OS to look good right out of the box. Linux or more specifically Ubuntu Linux so far has sported colors that are not the most agreeable. I bought different makes of cars for years, they all had green lit dashboards. One time I bought a Pontiac 6000 sedan, it was so cool. The first time I lit up the dashboard, a startling orange on black. I was mesmerized every time I drove it. Ubuntu's brown and orange choice is just not doing it for me. I am more of a blue kind of guy. The great thing about Gnome is how easy you can change things. OK, they didn't put a couple dozen pre-made combos in the theme manager for you to choose. Don't shoot me, you didn't read the fine print, "batteries included, adjust to suit, mileage may vary". The Gnome desktop is deceptively simple yet offers a fare amount of tweak-ability. The easiest change is the wallpaper or background. I'll save that for last for that very reason. Click on the System word on the menu bar, then Preferences and select Appearance. You will see a choice of say 10 themes (is that all?!?). Now wait, click on one that's close to what you want. I like the one with rounded corners called "Human-Murrine". It immediately changes the whole desktop, you don't have to click install. If you want to change any of the elements click "Customize". From here you can tweak all the parts, including the background. On the menu select item, I turned the blazing orange to a peaceful brown tone and removed my sunglasses. Then on the background tab I went for the horizontal gradient and stayed with the brown colors for now. If you are color blind, can't make up your mind or are just lazy install a little program called "Agave". It has the wonderful ability of matching the color you picked with two co-ordinating colors. You can tweak until you hit on something you like. Each color has a number you can copy from the dialog box of Agave, paste it into the box in Appearance and you are ready to go. Finally for this make over I centered a piece of my own artwork, a graphic in the African spirit, saved the creation to my home folder and presto, I have a personalized theme I can switch to any time I want, just select it in Appearance and hit the install button. This is a screenshot with no apps running.
I think this is snazzy, and I made the panels at the top and bottom disappear by using a transparency option. Just right click each panel, select properties, then background, then transparency. I got my idea of African flavor, all I need is marimba and drum sound, a screensaver of rushing herds of various animals and the dashiki I wore in college. So, there you are and in fact if you want to check out what other Gnome users have come up with, head over to or Don't be afraid to wonder or wander in Linuxville, we appreciate the daring and the conventional, show off your stuff and have fun.

Linuxville newspaper editorials

The world, religion, politics and other operating systems, Linuxville residents are effected by it all and your humble Linuxville guide has his own share of opinions and solutions to the mess we live in. Those presidential hopefuls talk big energy stuff, I don't take much stock in what they say because once it filters down through gov channels you'll get the drips and it's tainted water at best. Why do we have less people in the US and use more energy and oil? There are things we can do.
1. Use natural materials whenever possible, like cotton, flax and even hemp. I am so surprised that with all the plant research in the US we haven't developed a hemp with zero drug value. We should find ways not to use plastics in disposable items, like grocery bags and foam cups and plates.
2. Let the Asians consume the efficient car business if US car makers don't and can't get the message. I would like to have my guzzler replaced and recycled, not resold to another driver. You need to make a business out of getting rid of the old car technology that everybody owns today. Where is the energy efficient truck? Where is the big ad that says an electric car uses less gas and oil than a conventional car. Let's see, an eCar around home and a train between cities......
3. We should redesign the big household energy users, air conditioning, home heating units, water heaters and dishwashers. The retrofit market should be bigger than the new builds market. We could trade them for efficient cars. That's real trade policy folks.
4. Somebody has got to design efficient light bulbs that fit the fancy chandeliers in my house that I use everyday or give me an energy credit to rewire and replace them.
5. Should make energy audits part of house inspection surveys. Energy use should figure into the value of the house.
6. If energy efficient yet powerful Laptop computers are the way to go, energy sucking desktop units should be replaced. A buyback or trade in program should be developed. Gad folks design a Linux based high speed modem/Ethernet unit already.
7. Develop a grass that grows to only 2 inches, no gas mowing necessary. Design attractive ways for US homeowners to get over grass lawn addiction. Low resource gardening should be taught in every home center and garden store.

I realize this is a diversion from usual Linux fare but Linux penguins are feeling the heat too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

later that same day.....

Well. all is quiet again, the rain has stopped, the gloom and doom have been set aside. Samba works but I still need to understand it, then tweak it. In any event I am sharing a network folder between Ubuntu and XP on separate machines. If the docs weren't in geekonese, perhaps it would be easier to cipher. Boy, I had forgotten how awkward XP really is. I always wondered why the file explorer, the most useful tool, is so buried in the menus. My Computer is such a psyche. Just show me my file tree. No need to harp, just use it. What MS thinks are improvements amount to marketing joe-whooie. Eventually we all will have to accept Vista as OK, else wait several years for more of the same to be ready. I am deciding on an agenda, a lot depends on the direction a new job takes me. At our Linux class we were given a demo of's Draw. It is a very impressive vector graphic program sort of like Adobe Illustrator. Vector graphics have the unique talent of being able to be resized, scaled without losing proportions. These drawings are right at home in any of the programs, Write, Calc, and Impress. In the demo, one of the guys showed us how to make beer labels (for homemade brewski) and prepare them to print out on Avery type stickybacks. The ease of using Draw was eye opening. I got it for free with my Ubuntu installation. I got another application that does the same type of drawing. It is called Xara Xtreme. This started out as an application on the MS Windows platform. I also snagged a video from YouTube on its' features. It is way cool. The problem I am having is that I just don't have the time to spend to get deep into the applications. If there is anything that Linux is lacking today it is stories of users actually using the applications. This includes blogs, video how-tos and user support tips and tweaks. I am guilty of this myself and will have to slow down, get a little closer to the practical Linux. It's not as exciting as a whirling cube with moving video but eminently more useful. Maybe I will explore one of these applications by doing some project and present a demo to the Linux class myself. Better get on it, see ya later.....

It's alive, it's alive

The house was dark and the storm outside only made it worse. Rain was blowing sideways, wind howling and I thought I had heard the worst of it until lightning struck the house. Night became day for an instant, I thought I heard movement in the other room. I peaked in, the computer that sat on the shelf booted itself and began to have a life of its' own. Dag man, I said, if your going to choose a life, why you choose XP? Well I have a couple. First I do have XP as a virtual machine, which works fine but, sharing resources is a bit of a problem if you don't have enough memory. I installed Solid Edge, a 2d/3d drafting package. It worked but demanded more memory so there was the performance hit. So, until I get some more memory for my Linux box, I resurrected a MS machine to handle the drafting programs. Hey, you ask, doesn't Linux have drafting software? Yes it does but, they are not the popular choice in use among draftsman and engineers in business. I do have one Linux package called Qcad which I am exploring. Qcad's development has been slow probably due to the lack of interest for engineering graphics on the Linux desktop. It's the chicken and the egg thing all over again. Which comes first, the product or the user base. I don't know why I coupled XP's resurrection with a lightning strike, the metaphor doesn't match the slow process to get it installed. This is a practical thing to get at engineering software that only runs on MS, so don't get puffy. I think you folks in Linuxville will understand and forgive my indulgence. Anyway, I get to try out Samba and remote desktop and other things that lets Linux computer peak into MS Windows computers. Ya see, every monster is another opportunity to discover more of Linux.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Front porch in Linuxville revisited

You know, backyards and attics are kind of private worlds, it's good to retreat once in a while, get some perspective on things. My all time favorite place is the front porch. From there you can choose to engage the whole world or sit back and be a spectator. Surveying Linuxville you can see things in a good light and select at your leisure what you wish to get involved with. Like looking at people, you can almost see their genetic make-up in their faces. Some faces are are so familiar, some so similar to others. In college a couple of African med students said I reminded them of some folks they knew back home. I am talking about Linux. 400+ distros and on the surface they each seem so unique. The GUI makes some distros so similar, they could be clones. Put Xfce on any distro and you have the Xfce look and feel. The same with KDE or Gnome or any of the desktops and window managers. Look at people faces, no makeup or with makeup to express any assorted appearance agenda. Content, well, some are more talented than others in certain areas, but the thing that matters is always the same. The applications are the same whither on Ubuntu or Fedora, is People just like to compare and fuss, that is in their nature. This is too much, I like this, I hate that, this is lame, this is excellent and that is not enough. Many of you don't remember the folk song about little boxes made of ticky tack, all made the same. When the WWII soldiers came home, neighborhoods sprang up like a rash. It was more economical and efficient to build them the way they did, small lots, close together to share resources and to accommodate the numbers. Sounds like the marketing strategy of a certain software company. It met the need for the time but how cool is a 60+ year old house with aluminum siding and amenities designed for your grand parent's day. Well, you can buy into it all or move on to something suited to the present reality. Even if you don't buy into this unabashed Linux promo, you have to wonder why in the face of the digital divide do we still feel throwing scarce dollars at the teaching of technology problem will solve it. Forget about paying Mr. Gates and Mr. Jobs for their digital enslavement. and other open source software are valuable to train students to use the tools that are out there. Other than Nike, who asks a runner if they wear Nike shoes as a perquisite to race. Businesses should expect you to be able to use a word processor, it shouldn't matter the brand, there is not much difference between them anyway because we expect certain things to be in the applications. We compare free with commercial and say what's the catch? will run on MS Windows or Linux. I would rather push Linux but am probably already asking too much to consider open source. No. Part of the technology solution is putting tools in the hands of students. They will continue to lack those tools if we require them to buy them from vendors whose main business is to extract those dollars. Linux is free, open source software is free, they are valuable learning tools and resources that can be tapped today. You see speaking from one's front porch gives you a little strength compared to none on a soapbox in the square. I have my humble beginnings and I have learned a few things, I can't consider myself an extraordinary individual, geek, genius or tech guru but, having to adapt to many environments in the working world I see what could have made life better for me if it were available at that time. Linux and or open source is the way to go today. If you still feel to throw money at Steve and Bill, therapy might help. Even deep discounts and signed co-operation agreements can't beat free.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Attics and Antiquity

Backyards are fun but the best rummaging is done in the attic. I'm not talking about an actual attic though some I have met still have old, by computer standards, digital treasures. In the virtual attic of my experience with computers I can remember when it started. It was not that long ago and it was entirely unintentional on my part. High school had not prepared me for what came next. I won't tell you the whole story as old guys like to do but, I got a job in a library at a university. I never knew what an opportunity shelving books became for me. I got to see what everybody was reading, foolishness to highbrow to extremely technical or medical. Of course the magazines were the hardest to sort and shelve but the easiest to browse and glean. Here I discovered Byte Magazine which was the most visual of the computer hobbiest mags. I didn't understand much of what was written but it was fascinating. This was in 1971, there were personal typewriters, no personal computers in my life. The library had card catalogs, even the reference desk didn't have a computer. I would always hear of the exploits of engineering students, making black or blue boxes for illegal phone use and playing dungeons and dragons on the campus mainframe. Personal computing was becoming real and changing the world but I wasn't taking it too seriously. I read Popular Science and Popular Mechanics because they always announced the new technologies. The August 1976 issue of Popular Electronics which I also read, was pivotal for me. "Build the Cosmac Elf, a low-cost Experimenter's Microcomputer. I still have a copy of the article I downloaded later in 2000. It was before Commodore and Atari and Sinclair 1000, used a RCA 1802 CPU, which was used in space satellites. It really set the home hobbiest market on fire and my imagination. If you were a computer hobbiest in those days, you were familiar with making your own pc boards, wire wrapping and soldering, it was known as home brewing. I was tied up in family making and church and didn't have the time for that early geekness. Eventually I got a Sinclair 1000, a Z80 computer with 16k of memory and membrane keyboard.
This was the Cosmac Elf, boy was this intriguing, simple machine code and filling your hands instead of a whole room of switches and relays.
This was the Sinclair 1000, which is what I wound up with because I was not that tech savvy at the time. I am so glad for pre-built hardware and now pre-compiled software. Computers were a lot of work in the beginning. Today most users gripe if an application doesn't install properly or even if things are pre-installed, we say, "is that it?!". Being a little near the beginning of this adventure, I appreciate some of the effort that went into making all this as simple as pressing a button and clicking an icon. My first really practical computer was a Daewoo 286 that ran MS Dos. When I got it, my wife became a computer widow. The rest is history and is still unfolding in your life today. It is hard to predict how this will evolve, even older ideas are revamped and redeployed. Will we see one device that can do all communications or a number of devices that do their functions well? Will we see a resurgence of mainframes or servers that offer subscription services or an opposite push to own your own. The one thing is for certain, it is hard to realize what is going on when you are in the middle of it. Heck, there are still folks alive who fiddled with machine code, used paper tape and remember the sound of rooms of clicking relays. It wasn't that long ago.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Kickin around the backyard.

Ever wonder out into your back yard, take it all in, oooh, what's that?? The to-do list suddenly comes into play. Ubuntu has an assortment of apps that are pretty good but, on closer inspection (if you care to look) not up to my fussy work habits. It's a good thing it is so easy to add or remove programs. Also there are a good assortment of other programs that just might to the job. First on my list is F-Spot photo manager. What I don't like about it is the way it could generate multiple copies of photos, folders, ablums etc. Maybe I didn't spend enough time to understand how it works but, I shouldn't have that impression in the first place. So I removed F-Spot and installed digiKam and showFoto in its place. These apps are from the KDE side and are a little more predictable in how they work. DigiKam doesn't have it's own file management system, it uses the folders and such that are already in place in the system file manager. You can attach your camera and download pics, no problem. ShowFoto has all kinds of tools to tweak and fix photos. So while you folks are still figuring out F-Spot, I'm done. Then there is the famous and highly regarded Gimp. The Gimp is wonderful but not so easy to understand. So I installed Krita and mtPaint and Xara Xtreme along side it. Krita is from the KDE side, is easy to use and does a few things that Gimp does not. MtPaint is like MS Paint but for Linux and Xara Xtreme is like Adobe Illustrator. It is time consuming to get into the depths of any application and unless you really have a need or interest in using these apps you will be a hit and run user like me. Tutorials are a big help else I'd be returning to pencil and paper. One of the big lacks in graphics on the Linux desktop is CAD. Computer Aided Drafting/Design on the Linux desktop is always under development and there is none with the reputation, market presence and user base that matches AutoCad on the MS Windows platform. Linux has a load of niche market successes in various graphics industries but has not been taken seriously as of late. This is really strange because larger engineering firms all had mainframes that ran Unix and there are a number of engineering softwares that run on Unix. The engineering workstation, once supplied by mainframe application and file servers have mutated into desktops that locally host applications in MS Windows or Linux. It is hard to believe that Unix softwares were ported to the more regarded MS platform instead of Linux, the close cousin. And like with drivers and utilities, companies that develop CAD software for the MS platform refuse to develop Linux counterparts. Money is talking here but they always say "if the user base was there". Me, I've been an electrical draftsman for years, using AutoCad and have hoped for a Linux version or the ability to run the latest in Wine and am now looking at the virtual machine. I think a memory upgrade is in order. But the biggest roadblock is the price of AutoCad, it's staggering. Then, why buy the big AutoCad package with all the bells and whistles when they are not required in electrical drafting. There are less expensive alternatives and more electrical oriented applications but, AutoCad somehow hangs on as the standard. A curious thing, in the field of printed circuit board design and IC chip design, there are some very good Linux applications that have been around for years. In engineering and in my geographical area, mechanical drafters/designers are common and electrical is kind of rare. As Cad applications go, mechanical is the focus and electrical an afterthought in the whole Cad world. New electrical engineering applications strive to consolidate the whole design work flow, elimanating the number of people required. Today an engineer can design and model, prove and test and then generate all the documentation, schematics, wiring diagrams, physical wire routing and packaging, in one or two applications, no need for a string of subordinates and staff like in the old days. The only thing that saves my job is time. Most engineers don't have time to do it all. On the other hand it is kind of cool to be able to use just a few applications to get the job done. It is a terrible thing to move files from one application to another then to another, things can happen, stuff can get mangled or lost. I am very much at the crossroads career wise, draftsman or techie or both in some mutated mind melt. I am use to wearing a number of hats, being multi focused, running more that one operating system, yet I still find it difficult to multi-task and store/recall endless info and facts on demand. I'm glad I have this here backyard to kick around in, size things up, think things over. Who knows what will be the next Linuxville adventure?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Be at peace with your preference!

There are so many kinds of Linux users, newbies, fanboys or fangirls, fanatics, distro loyalists and a gamut of others. Some insist the distro they use is better, strive to prove it and push with arrogance and narrowed persuasion until you submit or at least agree. The turn around is when they attack another distro because it's more popular, has more press or more hype. I compare this to our car buying habits. At one time if you didn't buy American you were thought of as radical, not normal or elitist or even sophisticated or had discriminating taste. When foreign cars became more accepted, the perceptions changed. One thing was certain no matter what car you buy, it had to be drive worthy on American roads and not lacking in what American buyers want. In Linuxville, users tussle over the desktop, the utilities and all the options. They try their best to apply the market mentality to Linux. Most users think the distro with the most users, wins. So far Linux provides too many choices to sift out a clear and decisive victory for any distro. Ubuntu comes in many flavors, like Lifesavers candy. Just when Ubuntu has raised the bar, Kubuntu stands up. The difference between Ubuntu (Gnome) and Kubuntu (KDE), little things. The out of the box looks though different often fade as users tweak to a more personal look and feel. The change is inevitable because you can change it. MS nor Mac simply don't offer the ability to change the look and feel of the desktop to the degree that Linux gives to normal users. So these last few Linux years have been a call of the wild with compositing desktop effect addons becoming integrated into the GUI. Added to this is the improvement of management programs and each distro finds a following of invigorated users. But Linux is Linux like a car is a car. Of all the choices you find something you are comfortable with, usually the first one you struggle to understand. You discover your way around it, do what you can with it and announce to the world how cool it is. Dirty little secret, cheese for different markets might be cut off the same block. A grille choice and interior fabric choice might differentiate standard from luxury on a car line. What about Linux? Try one on, wear it for a while, get to know it, change it if you must. Be at peace with your choices. If folks are making other choices, that is their choice. Changes usually find their way into almost every distro because Linux is not one distro or another. What would be really helpful is if Linux users would spend a small part of their bandwidth exploring and explaining the various applications. So what if Linux can be as supple as a chameleon for looks, but what is and how to use Krita, Neverball, Lphoto or VLC? The homepages for these say little and docs only get you started. What do you say about these? Make webpages, do you use Bluefish or Kompose or are you locked in with Dreamweaver? I reported I had to give up wobbly windows to use VirtualBox. Is that a software and/or a hardware limitation? How about a PC hardware book that assumes Linux instead of just Microsoft or a networking book that explains networking with Linux? This generation likes to be on the cutting edge, but things on the edge come and go. Step back from the edge a pace, things are a tad bit more clear, more defined. There is a Linux that is in regular use and users are finding Linux can be used for daily work. In Linuxville there are visitors and there are residents. I do Ubuntu, a neighbor does Suse, another something else. Once you settle in, sameness and difference are features of the same Linux. When Linux becomes practical, show and tell has substance and the GUI becomes a way to get to the applications, the real thing Linux is good for. I reiterate, be at peace with your Linux choice.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

As if I was new to Ubuntu, again.

Went to the Ubuntu Linux class last night. We demoed copying and burning a live-CD in Nero (on XP). Then we booted from the CD into Ubuntu 7.10 and explored the 3 big necessities of computing, namely internet, productivity apps and games. In Ubuntu, Firefox is standard and there are a few others available, like Flock, Seamonkey (Mozilla Suite formerly Netscape), and Opera. These we didn't cover. I have said before, it is the file format that matters. I'm talking to you folks stuck with MS Works and refusing to buy MS Office. The office suite is free and functually equivalent to MS Office. If you must have the proffessional suite, by all means buy MS Office, but if you are a casual user, don't waste your money, get Then we looked at Evolution, the email/news client. You could also use Thunderbird, Seamonkey or several other Linux email clients. These all have PIM (personal info management) bells and whistles. And lastly the one no one can do without, games. It has been said that Linux does not have any games. That is one statement that needs to be revised. Do you actually think that the "techies" who write Linux software could survive without games? Linux does not have many Microsoft games. There are hundreds of games of all types. They may be similar to games you already know, some not familiar at all. But also some games of Microsoft vintage might be ported to the Linux platform. I really don't know, I am not a avid gamer. Anyway for folk who casually game, the assortment is kind of mind boggling. I myself like Billard-gl, a 3d pool sim, Neverball, Neverputt, SuperTux, like Mario Bros, and Frozen-Bubble. If you are a first shooter fan, there's a bunch of them. For fanatics, please get an X-Box. Linux has got all the bases covered. Linux is not an overnight sensation. The Linux/Unix lineage goes back before Microsoft and Apple ever existed. A new or different computing platform does take a little time to learn, but you have to realize, if it were just like Microsoft or Mac it would be a clone. What would be the point in that? So, you got your work cut out for you, a world exist out there to explore. Like another neighborhood or city or country, somethings are the same, many things different. Come for a visit or move in.