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.