Saturday, December 26, 2009

gene splicing 101

As promised I am going to splice the genes of an elephant with that of a chameleon. First you must have two species with the same nature. In this case the most obvious is the elephant with his ability to hide in a room. Then the chameleon who really doesn't hide but whispers so convincingly (Jedi mind trick!) that you just don't believe he is there. He says " you don't see me, do you?", the answer is always no. "Man, don't force me to use my color skills on you."

Then realize I am using metaphors. The elephant is the computer and the chameleon a particular kind of user (a digital artist, of course!). Unless the artist messes with traditional media, you can't tell his studio from any other filled with computer junk. But I think digital artist in particular have this knack for transforming things, making things out of stuff (even digital stuff) and doing it without a big mess. See If my wife came in the room and smelled paint, saw paint on the brushes, on me, she would say, "sorry hon, your busy". But on the computer I am spotless so she says, "are you busy, when you got a minute..........". I think I'm going to sell vinyl stick-on paint splatter and oil paint scented air spray for digital artist.

There are many kinds of digital artist and we all don't need a fortress of solitude to do our digital deeds. For me though my desk is the place where I can think artistic thoughts. Other places are so distracting. My stuff is so typical, not dedicated and certified. Unless you are a pro, the need for top of the line equipment is not part of the trade. A powerful PC, Wacom tablet, etc, etc, etc.

I want to see what I can do with simple tools of modest means. Yeah, I am a typical starving artist whose life is "more important" and whose art is a hobby in everybody else's mind. This is why the chameleon, folks don't realize how serious I am about my art efforts, "I am doing serious work, you do see that don't you?", the answer is always no.

The wizard in the OZ story tried to fake the chameleon persona. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!", he bellowed with electronic thunder and pyrotechnics. You see, the elephant in the room is quiet, so the chameleon is quiet also. The wizard called attention to himself and had to account for himself. I hate explaining on a regular bases, it's hard enough for me to explain it to myself, to keep people informed and in the loop is not the artist's way. We work in semi-seclusion (sometimes total) and reveal it all when the work's done. And yet there are a few performance artist who do speed painting, in public!!

So, with digital art it is recommended you have two displays, one for work and one for tools, docs, tutorials, etc; a graphics tablet because drawing with a mouse is like a 2.5" wide laddie pencil, and you got to have a scanner and a printer or two. Then I also recommend a camera of some sort. These are the basic tools, they don't have to be top of the line but quality is a must. If it's cheap, it better be a sale price.

My ideal is to have a laptop with enough umph to do graphics. I want to buy my next PC from a Linux dealer as mentioned in my last blog. The secret is that Open Source GIMP and Inkscape softwares require less power than Photoshop or Illustrator. This may not be an advantage for commercial graphic folks but for me, it is the cream and fine for what I do. Folks are always trying to get you to compete on a higher level and buy from the higher shelf. I say it is OK to use what you have access to, fits your need and make your own tools if you have to. The only thing that really matters is the type and quality of the final file format anyway. How you get there is what an artist does.

I was driving toward downtown on a freeway overpass, looking to the right the billboard changed, I said "that's the mother of all digital monitors!" Something in my head went "epiph!" (short for epiphany). Then I went to a lady's home to fix her computer. She had a 42" wide flat screen on the dresser so she could work sitting on her bed. Hey, there's that "epiph!" again. For me If I get a 42" screen it will sit in the living room to share with the whole family. But the thought of a large digital canvas is very intriguing. I started having flashes of the movie "Minority Report". Tom Cruise was gesturing in front of a very wide display that floated in front of him. And I also saw CNN folks doing the multi-touch thing  and thousands of Wii users waving their remotes. So, you see, the technology is there, it is just not dedicated to the purpose of digital art. It is up to the artist (the chameleon) to bring together the computer tools (the elephant) in one place.

Art is all about the process toward the finished piece. Songs, poetry, stories if written well, depend upon the delivery, the same with music. Having cool tools makes the process worth the hassle to get it out there. OK, now, let's see, move this nuclei here, snip, slice, dice and..............!?! There it is, the elephant can now ripple his color in any pattern, shape, form and that tongue, you thought the trunk was a nuisance. The chameleon, "you don't see me here, do you?"

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

a mouse mechanic in Linuxville

Hi folks and welcome to the Linuxville garage. Every now and then I don the PC mechanics jumpsuit and tinker under the hood. Today, I stumbled on a web page that talked about fixing the scroll-wheel on a mouse. I have two mice that I put aside because they did not scroll anymore. Going from a mouse with scroll-wheel to one without is a BIG back step.

Flip the thing over and use two fingers to turn the donut and remove the ball. Usually when you look inside there is all kinds of personal forensic evidence caked on the ball rollers. Most time you can clean these with a knife, tweezers and a little air (your own is fine, don't spit!). Keep q-tips, lint-free towels, rubber gloves, a new mouse still in the bubble pak or the phone number of the nearest PC shop handy.

Mice have one screw on the bottom at the stern (back end), the front is held by body clips. You got to slide the top part back gingerly but with controlled force. Inside are plastic gears, the roller assembly, tiny switches and, Oh-My-Gosh! Tiny Dust Bunnies!!!

I cleaned the bunnies the best I could and even removed the scroll wheel don't try this at home carefully. The scroll wheel sits on a hub, not very tightly, it slides a little. I clean the wheel, the hub and put them back together. One web site recommends a little spray glue to keep it from sliding around the hub.

I put the whole thing back together in the reverse order of disassembly. I did this with both mice, one fully recovered as new, the other is a cripple (still doesn't scroll).

The crippled mouse is the wireless one that came with my Wacom Graphire 2 graphics tablet. And it works great while using Synergy, I can move the cursor from screen to screen, it just doesn't scroll. No, no, it's part failure, not PC mechanic error.

I still have my dream, an artist's sketching PC. There are none on the low end (pros have all the fun) and all the laptop modders are painting lids, not tinkering with laptop insides. I want to kill the last visage of the "typewriter cult". First by building a panel to cover/replace the whole laptop palmrest. This new panel will have a Wacom pen/touch embedded in it. Then if I need to type I will have two external keyboards, a regular size one for desk typing and an ultra trim mini travel size for portable finger poking (what I do). Depending on the laptop I will have to modify the hinge assembly so the lid/display will close properly. And lastly, the customary gray/green tarp that looks like a 57 Chevy is under it. The technology exists, it's mostly a repackaging job and a new tee shirt that reads, "back away from the cutting edge, please!". Come on, try this at home. Put your Graphire 2 tablet over the laptop keyboard and let it melt into place, see, and it's cheaper too! No, it's not a professional graphics workstation, it's not meant to be.

Part of my job is to egg you on to use Linux, Open Source Software and to divide that pile of used junk into two smaller piles. Computing is fun/work, but you have to work at it and have fun with it. Next project gene splicing an elephant with a chameleon.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Linux throughbred PCs and Laptops

Most people wanting to try Linux, especially on a laptop, did not buy their laptop with the idea of installing Linux. It is too bad the most vocal of the group vent their frustrations so that everybody gets the impression that Linux is crap. Gee folks, put butter on frozen bread and tell the world how bad your toast is.

It has been years since I poked at the little penguin approved hardware logos to see what's behind them. I am so surprised that hardware has improved right along with the software. There are bullet-proof Linux PCs and laptops as well. And there is a secret that might help you. As long as the PC is in the middle of the road, chances are Linux will work on it (though mileage may vary!). If you have special stuff or hardware where vendors only supply MS version drivers, good luck with that. The sure fire way to enjoy Linux is to get Linux certified hardware. That is PCs and laptops with hardware guaranteed to run Linux.
These folks have been around forever............
These folks also have been around long time and I like their stuff/prices
These guys are long timers too.

They each have many configurations, services and support. So with great anticipation I will buy my next computer from one of these vendors, a laptop made to run Linux, and MS (only if I want to). To have Linux pre-installed is so wonderful and time saving, and to have all the hardware working is an over the top user experience. I don't want to dismiss the HP's, Dell's, IBM's or any of the imports, but for the most part, Linux is a sideshow for which they tend to hide their enthusiasm and marginalize their support.

Sour grapes, no, I bought my used Chevy from a Ford dealer. I get great service but it's a Chevy. They have to order parts that Chevy dealers have on hand. So, after 10 years of MS dealers I will go to a Linux dealer for my next PC. Gee, I feel at peace now! Nerdvana!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Have Synergy and live to tell about it!

I think I got a bad case of DIY-make it better now syndrone. Here at my digital abode in downtown Linuxville, where the orange barrels are as abundant as cracks in the sidewalks, I have made another milestone. Building upon the engineering wonders of others is not my forte, but packaging and repackaging, aaaahh! Most times the technology is there, just not in the places where I would put them.

The Linuxville desk has two ATX style computers, one LCD and two CRTs, two keyboards and two mice and don't forget the router, DSL and printer. It's a digital fortress, am I getting overdosed in eddy currents? I needed to at least get rid of one keyboard and one mouse so that I can end some confusion. I swapped the two CRTs so that the big one is usable. The smaller CRT is a spare. I dedicated one computer to documents where I can store all my training stuff, tutorials and whatnot. My other computer is my main workhorse. They are on the same network, but how to use them together from one keyboard and mouse is expensive with a hardware KVM. Well, comparably anyway, after I installed a program called Synergy. KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) consist of a junction box. On one side you plug in all your PCs, the other, a keyboard, a monitor and a mouse. You could just share the keyboard and mouse and let each PC have its own monitor. You can select which PC is viewed and controlled with a key-click.

It is not hard to setup Synergy, though not as cool as running two monitors on one computer, but you do have more computing resources at you disposal with two or more PCs.

First I installed Synergy on each computer. Then I write a text file describing what each computer is called and name it synergy.conf and put it in my home directory. This configuration file says which PC is the server and which are the clients. Then I use the dreaded terminal window to issue a start the Synergy server command. This is done on the PC that will be the server. Then on each client machine, using the terminal window I issue the start Synergy client command. You can automate it all if you have the savvy. The web site is helpful and the Ubuntu site also has setup notes.

What is the results? I can shelve the mouse and keyboard for one computer. The mouse and keyboard on my main computer controls whichever computer has the cursor on its screen. I can now do other things on my desktop because I can see the wood surface.

Synergy also works with MS Windows so I can add my laptop if I wanted. This would be great because the touch pad is awkward, I don't have a USB mouse and of course my laptop has no PS/2 ports. And no, the Wacom graphics tablet plugged into my main PC doesn't work well on the other screen. I think maybe if it were in mouse mode it might work. I will have to get back with you on that.

I so much enjoy the uncluttered freedom and access.

Ubuntu Synergy setup

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

better homes and computers

OK, here's the fix, I know OS's, Linux or Windows or Mac, have a way to separate each user's stuff but I am going to tell you a better way. Buy a portable bookshelf disk drive for each member in the family. You can work the system a number of ways but for privacy and security nothing beats your own drive. Newer PC's will even allow you to boot from a remote drive, this means the PC can have say Win7 on it and the remote drive can have Ubuntu Linux on it. So when you want to Ubuntu, plug in the drive and drive.

Also if you got kids and your laptop looks it, buy a remote keyboard and mouse, this will channel the sticky fingers away from your laptop. Now, now, compare the cost, $50 remote keyboard and spilt milk vs $700 laptop and spilt milk, aah, you get it!

Personally I don't like those digital picture frames. Besides looking like an old fashioned wide matted photo, they barely do a slide show. I would take a wimpy laptop, turn the screen backward so that you can see it when it is closed (for the coffee table or wall mount) or on a stand (on the mantle), then use a remote keyboard instead of a built in one. I can hide the keyboard, the picture frame is a wonderful 10"-15" diagonal, and I can have sound with my pictures. The thin PC frame looks sleek and modern. You can do the same similar thing with an old and/or cheap PC but recycle that old CRT monitor and get a LCD display.

I have a question, how many PCs can one have for one's self and not go mad? I now have three and they are driving me mad just thinking about it. Two Ubuntu and one XP (the laptop). I guess it is time to dedicate PCs for different uses. On my network I can make one a server for file storage or a multimedia machine and plant it in the living-room TV cabnet. This is an old dilemma you know, ever wonder about the madness in a clock shop during a daylight savings time change, same thing. Add to this the personal computer vs the computer you share with the whole family.

It's kind of a weird thought to have so much potential in a PC and restrict it for a specific use, but lets replace the word limit with focus or dedicated. However, if you need to rearrange or rebuild or reprogram your devices, the potential is still there. it's not wasted, just redirected. So, if you have your computer setup as a multimedia center to be accessed and used by the whole family, you probably wouldn't want to use it for personal internet adventures unless you're home alone, but you can. With my laptop, I can now sit in the livingroom, watch TV and converse with my wife (she misses me!) instead of hiding in the computer room.

Watch TV?? Yeah, through the multimedia center. That depends on what you have connected to it, cable, satellite, internet (like YouTube), DVDs, CDs, what ever source that can be played on the TV through the computer, including regular broadcast TV stations. With a lot of what is deemed as entertainment these days going up in quantity and down in quality, I go to the library for DVDs and download stuff of interest. The big question though is can you do this stuff with Linux???? Yes you can! There are several Linux applications that do multimedia. Miro, and MythTV are the ones known to me, there are more, like Moovida (looks hot!).
If you don't like what is on broadcast TV, cable, yet you want entertainment, news, you can be choosy, picky and downright discriminating about what comes into your house.

I tell you the DIY cult is alive and well. There are still backyard tinkerers, mechanics and stereo/video buffs, extreme gamers and home theater fanatics. You can even turn you garage into the Lowes but the marquee violates zoning laws and a ticket window! Come on!
But why DIY when you can buy a pre-packaged, ready to plug-in and use system? Because you can take it all apart and rebuild it better, with the ready to plug-in and use systems you are stuck with what you get. The caveat, mileage may vary, so check it out before you commit.

Well, I got to go, I'm eying my garage for a major renovation, a mini iMax, pass the juju-bees.

Arno's App List

ABC's Nightline has the plate-list and the play-list, Arno's Art has the app-list. I fling and sling a lot of terms but what is on my machine. My main machine is a HP Pavilion a1030e, not a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination. I won't detail it, it is a middle of the road typical desktop. I have Kubuntu installed, that's Ubuntu Linux with the KDE desktop GUI.

Firefox is my main web browser.

Konqueruor my second web browser is also a file manager, viewer, etc, etc, etc, swiss army knife.

Open Office is a complete office suite, does MS file formats except MS macro stuff.

eSword is a Bible study center with multiple translations, commentaries, maps, etc; totally wonderful and you can get multiple languages too, including Arabic.

GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program is raster graphics like Photoshop.

Inkscape, is vector graphics like Adobe Illustrator.

Blender 3D is 3D graphics and animation, like no other!

Gwenview is a picture viewer.

Scribus is a desktop publisher system.

Amarok is a audio player and management system.

VLC, VideoLan Controller is the absolute best play anything media player, it streams and captures stills, records and makes Julian fries.

Kb3 is the KDE CD/DVD copy/burner software, does a great job.

Dolphin is a file manager with previews, kills the need for desktop shortcuts, the refrigerator door magnet look is over.

Basket Note Pads is a note pad that handles pictures and text. It is better than a mind map.

Kmail is my email handler.

Synaptic is how you access Linux repositories to install and remove software. It also finds and installs required libraries and extra stuff needed to run software you chosen.

These are the main stuffs on my PC, not nearly a third counting all the small apps like calculators and screenshot apps. OK, I did't mention games. I have lots of games, but I am not a gamer. For the most part Linux does not have Microsoft PC games, Xbox games, Nintendo games, Wii games, Mac games or Play Station Games, so get over it. It does have it's own array of games that might or might not be sort of like those games or not. Not being a game connoisseur, I can not say, but Linux is not lacking in games, if you want Linux games.

I just do what I do on my PC and I am sure others do differently. I can not cover the full breath of what Linux users can do. But you have the liberty to explore, to check it out, to roam like a free range chicken and go to the outer limits or just check your email and play solitaire. Now, you can get all this glorious wonder for free, the cost of download time or the cost of purchase of a CD/DVD is minor. This leaves a hollow feeling in many, so I encourage you, if you are so inclined, to donate to the various software projects of the software you accumulate to help continue development, upgrades and availability. You can also put in your 2 cents by offering suggestions and reporting bugs to these projects. It's a community thing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

best kept secret in Linux is FOSS

Artist must suffer but you can suffer less. My latest project is resurrecting a slightly older laptop PC. Seemed hopeless, no memory, power supply and dust bunnies. I took it all apart and put it back together. It kept running for 10 minutes and shutting down. The CPU was cooking and the thermo paste failed to make a good seal with the heatsink. I did put on enough thermo paste, but it oozed out when I tightened the heatsink down. Then, I got a thermo pad which looks like a smear of putty, cut square on a strip of tape. I put it in place and screwed down the heatsink. When running it got warm, I was concerned, but it didn't shut down, it now runs all day, must be OK. Older laptops do heat up.

The laptop had XP on it, I burned it off and installed Xubuntu. It was fine except the sound didn't work or the wireless. I went to the Gateway web site and all the chip set drivers were for Microsoft OS. I thought of dual booting and installing Linux inside of XP (you can do it!). I have decided to put XP back on, what an experience!, because the laptop was made for XP. I am enduring all the usual pain of service packs, unknown updates, authenticating and activation and endless anti-virus updating. So, to me, when I boot-up, I always wonder if the PC is going to work without a hitch, get past all this stuff and let me get to my work. I never experience this anxiety with Linux. Linux has updates with descriptions and just works without the drama.

Now for the suffering less part, I am using mostly Free Open Source Software (FOSS). Almost all of my typical Linux applications are available in the XP flavor also. This is a good situation actually, I get to keep a rusty hand in the XP world and still extol the virtues of Linux with software that runs on both platforms. FOSS stands pat to bridge the digital gap.

Earlier in my blog I gave some web links for FOSS, this new one is especially for Microsoft users, These are two DVD iso's, the OpenDisc and the OpenEducationDisc. They each are a DVD sized download, if you don't have a fast connection better buy the discs.

Back on the laptop, I find my time and date settings have to be reset at each boot. My CMOS battery on the motherboard is near dead. Time to hit Radio Shack. I also have a problem when running the laptop and the power supply cord gets accidentally pulled out, it does not switch to battery mode. Then, even if I run it all day, either the battery is not charging or the power reg on the motherboard is shot. New batteries and refurbished or used motherboards are all overpriced for this machine. It seems to be OK as a desk machine (semi-portable), I'll have to take my power brick with me.

I have few comments about the laptop world. First, it is too bad there isn't more standardization in laptop design, or a file format for the chip-set and card drivers that isn't operating system dependent. Then a standard connector for the power cable with a slight snap that can't be pulled out so easily. Finally, I guess I still like display screens in the 4:3 aspect. They seem to be better for document viewing and artwork than the 12:9 aspect screens. But if you get a big wide screen on the laptop you might get by, only that laptop is not so portable. I was in a lawyer office, they had 4:3 aspect displays turned sideways to view 8-1/2 x 11 pages full screen. If you turn a notebook PC sideways and hold it like a book, gee, you can see the full pages on the left and on the right is the mouse pad. Not bad if you must hold a book.

Then for the Linux world I like to see a step-by-step how-to for typical home users. To know how to setup a home network and wireless would be a big help. This would include a Linux only network, a mixed Linux/Win/Mac network, file sharing between network machines and printer sharing. Once you have a typical model explained in simple terms, most can deal with special situations and such. The writer will have to use his/her best mouse-side manner because us typical home users are not system admin or PC wizards.

Linux on the laptop is not as easy as Linux on a desktop, laptops have less standardization in design. There is a web site This has mostly older hardware as the newer stuff seems OK but how would I know, this paragraph brought to you by "this ole laptop PC."

I'm sorry to say there is no know cure for users concerning older hardware. I know, I know, it still works fine. Putting new software on old hardware smacks of the wineskin thing in the Bible. There comes a point when retiring the old stuff is probably the best thing. If money is not the problem then please get newer stuff, please. You will notice PS/2 connectors being missing from newer PC's because keyboards and mice are USB or wireless. Also the cost of memory for older PC's does not lower with age, it goes up because of rarity. Then with improvements in both software and hardware it is a plus to have newer stuff. Withdrawal discomfort, separation anxiety and frugal reasonings will go away if you insist on grieving, let go, please! I would say "buy a little smaller TV so that you can get a new PC" (this is your subliminal techie speaking).

Thursday, November 26, 2009

the artist must suffer

The artist must suffer is a phrase I heard as a kid. What are they talking about? First there is the suffering of your life circumstances, everybody has that. Then, suffering is when you take all your skills, training, experiences and realize you aren't that great and your artist desire is a delusional fixation. Then you survey the past, present and up and coming artist's work and find you don't have anything new or significant to contribute. Then after you are totally convinced you are a worthless blob with delusions, on the verge of depression, and ready to get a job like everyone else, epiphanies come out of nowhere. It's like falling/jumping off the cliff and either wings sprout or the cliff is really a short hop.

"Everybody can make art, that's no special skill, that's no earth shaking practical talent, like a doctor or a lawyer." I beg to differ. Learning a skill set is science, applying it is an art. Ask any doctor or lawyer. The two are joined at the hip, art and science. The cloth dyer must know the science behind his/her dyes and the art. Knowing law is meaningless if you can't work the space between the judge and the client. Doctors without patient empathy (bedside manner) make everybody nervous. This is a reciprocal mantra, "art/science, science/art" it applies to everything. It is the process of everything that passes through a man's hands or mind. If it is just science, it is cold, dry, dimensionless, the same with art, it becomes meaningless and there is no art without science.

Art is the process that applies the science. Art requires science, expresses with the science. A drawing of a house, then the stacking of bricks to make the house. The art is the picture and the meaningful composition of materials (roof, walls, windows, etc.), which validates the science of structure, the forces of nature (gravity, load bearing, etc.). So, to be committed to the process of art is a suffering. It is not instant like thought. To get a flash of inspiration or have a nagging concept or a story you must tell and do so through your body's function and the materials you gathered around yourself to communicate to others is a suffering. Why? Because you reveal yourself in your expression and are subject to others. "Hey, you talking to me? What the heck are you trying to do or say or show me? I don't like that! I don't understand that! That is not art! That is ugly! You are a nut! or That's pretty cool!, That resonates with me! That says what I feel!"

Art also illustrates ideas, dreams, visions, conveys mood, emotion. This is the art most of us contend with. The picture that speaks a thousand words, clear and precise or garbled unintelligible banter. From a technical drawing to an endless chaos of splotches. There is a context and a setting and an audience. A Jackson Pollack painting in a junkyard is..............but put it in a different light, context, setting and a magic emerges some can appreciate. A political cartoon generates amusement or death threats depending on the audience. A urinal on a wall but not a restroom wall is not art to me. I grew up with the child potty in the living-room, to put the adult potty there is sick. Sometimes context shifting is thought provoking, challenging, controversial or statement making. Some make their mark with this kind of so-called "art".

What about the art we live with, the furnishings we purchase or acquire for our living spaces? I am an African-American, been here for many generations, yet when I go to the store there are few if any African inspired furnishings that reflect my mythic past. The stuff from furniture stores, department stores and antique shops all reflect other cultures. So, in that light, my art aims to validate and illuminate something that is missing in America and down-played by this new diversity movement. This arena gives a hint at my personal suffering as an artist. How to blend and still have a strong flavor, how my roots are as valid and vital as any other man's roots. And I ask, are we in a competition to show who is more superior, intelligent, creative by category (race, sex, age, social status, wealth, culture)?????

We have ascribed to both evolution and intelligent design and still conclude that the composition of a man's body is a marker of his intelligence and supremacy over/under other men. By composition I mean color, height, weight, center of gravity, physical ability, etc. Today especially in America, the mixing of gene-pools has produced humans of every range and description and yet we battle to label ourselves by national origin, historic past, racial roots, cultural traditions to keep whirling (separated) in the rim swirl and not funnel into the pipe to become just an American. How long does it take to become a native? How many generations? Heaven forbid we become native to the land we invaded or were dragged to centuries ago. Do we keep receiving immigrants to refresh our separateness? This is a dilemma that everybody here faces with no exception. We celebrate cultures to keep it alive, so that we don't forget where we came from. As each generation passes, that past is not so strong and we scold our kids for not remembering and get enraged when they have so much liberty to blend, have kids and blend some more.

The phrase "I am an American" is worn so proudly by fresh immigrants but is bitter mutter 2 or 3 generation later, what is becoming of us? Relax, you are becoming a native to the America you've created. Those whom we have called "Indians or Native Americans" are doubled over in laughter as we are succumbing to our fate, the very thing we stigmatize them for. We are becoming the dirt we stand on just like they did. Maybe if you become a world traveler you can escape being rooted here, or say I'm a citizen of the world, I embrace everybody and everything. Maybe you can search out life on other planets............. to prove you are bigger than any country or history itself. No wonder men buy stainless steel hermetically sealed casket to preserve and keep separate remains that would ordinarily be remixed into the earth they came from. No need for a pyramid, we can can you.

It was said that "the American Experiment" is an iffy situation, it is art. A living art on the face of the earth. It is criticized by ones outside affected by it and ones inside experiencing it. The artist's job is to time-stamp the process so that overtime you can see where we've been. Our successes, our failures, our misgivings and aspirations are all recorded in our art.

I ramble to give you insight as to the questions, observations and considerations I go through, I play in my mind as an artist. Then I use a computer and printer instead of paint, brush and canvas. I use Linux with GIMP, Inkscape and Blender 3d instead of Microsoft or Mac with Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. I target the space behind your living room sofa instead of the museums of the world. Art to me is about making beautiful things instead of laughing at mis-guided and duped art lovers. The killing part is that it is different for every artist and ultimately you are the judge in any case.

This is "Ameba Dance".

This is "Tribal Essence".
And there is more to come.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

the maddness, the pain, the liberation

I just wasn't satisfied with upgrading Ubuntu 9.04 with 9.10. I did the online upgrade and like I said took 5 hours. I had disabled Gnome desktop which came standard on Ubuntu and installed the KDE desktop. So I got out the yellow tape and marked off the Linuxville guide desk. It looked more like a crime scene. I deleted unwanted files, then backed up all personal data on CDs. Man, I wish I had a DVD burner.

When the dust settled I installed Kubuntu 9.10 from the Live-CD. It only took 1 hour to download and another to install. Compared to 5 hours for the online upgrade, this was a dream. I am quite pleased with the results, KDE desktop is a bit more robust than Gnome, but I like it. What does robust mean? A little more configurable in some things with more noticeable results. I think KDE and Gnome compete like Microsoft and Mac, only on the Linux platform. You can't go wrong with either KDE or Gnome. The only complaint was the package installation manager for KDE (Kpackagekit), it is not straightforward and easy to use for finding software. Instead I use Synaptic, a way more wonderful and thoughtful package management app.

I am not a multi-tasker by nature but I did laugh at the Win7 commercial where the young lady had way too many programs open at the same time and it did not crash (knock on plastic!). It was never the crashing that bothered me, it was the confusion. All that stuff on the desktop reminded me of my dining room table, piled, layered with stuff in plain sight. Linux has had up to 16 desktop workspaces for years now. I had different reference materials open full page on different workspaces. There is a pager in my toolbar which shows each workspace and allows me to get to any one of them very quickly. With the compositing effects into play, you can rotate the workspaces on a cube or see them all arrayed flat or...........killing the clutter and not crashing as well. Icons all over the desktop are a dis-ease. I've learned to use my file manager to graphically show me where things are.

One of my main problems as an artist is what to do next. If you are doing this for a living, that is, working for a company, at least you have direction. If you are a free lancer it is best to draw what you know. The thing I discovered is that limitations work better than abundance. When everything, all the tools, all your talents, all the subjects are before you, it is hard to choose. I tell myself to limit my pallet. When I have a small group I get creative. What can I do with this? I can always add something or take away something. With limitations come considerations, I think about what I need and if I need to learn a new trick, a new skill.

I will admit a lot of my work is not pure digital, that is, I'm not putting in calculations to make the computer draw something mathematical. I'm not into digital photos either. But what I like is to make parts of drawings and combine them. Sometimes I draw on paper, scan it into the PC and start that way. So for me the computer is for helping along human generated art. A PC is a very, very fancy pen/pencil/brush.

Hardware, where is my hardware? I can work fine at home, at my desk, but as soon as I go out of the room a separation anxiety happens. A laptop would be a good fix but it's still a big conventional PC. A netbook is OK except it is not really meant for graphics work. I think I need a new device. Call it a sketchbook. It's a handy unit, light weight and has a few standout features.
1. 12"- 15" screen is plenty big, can be wide-screen or not. Pixel Qi (pronounced "chee") has new low power display technology that is cheaper, sort of pimped out ePaper.

2. No keyboard!! The on_screen virtual keyboard is perfect along with a remote wireless compact keyboard (if needed).

3. 6" x 9" pen pad built into the deck, where the keyboard was, OR.....
I would even take a pen pad panel and snap it over the keyboard/palmrest to turn a slightly juiced netbook into a sketch pad doodle machine.

Now I'm going to step in it. Web graphics and multi-media folks usually want a screen big enough and a PC with power enough to run professional Microsoft platform graphics applications. Please go buy a well endowed laptop and don't mess with my dream. This idea is for a sketchbook, a portable doodle machine. I want to emphasize pen input but not the touch screen approach, or the pen tablet display approach (both pricey technologies). Then I am running Linux graphics applications like Gimp, Inkscape and MyPaint. Why, because actual drawing on a PC is an afterthought with the pro-ware. I want to doodle on a PC meant for sketching. Yes, I am lowering the bar here, I've quite enough of messaging the egos of the well heeled and pro-graphic-technology junkies. Let the low end become the archetype for once. This leaves room for an upgraded model, but not today. What usually happens is a good starting point product is planned but by the time every kind of commercial artist weighs in, it becomes the Dell W700 with built-in Wacom tablet, color calibration tools and $3000 price tag, all I want is to sketch. Build a machine for my end of the market, I have art needs too.

I'm setting with my doodle machine in my lap, bag lunch, thermo of joe and the urge to push pixels. Imagine, a roving artist, small canvas, paint box, easel, folding chair and time to paint dreams. Reality, I've taken mom-n-law to doctor appointment, sitting in waiting room, doodle machine in hand, 20 minutes to myself. My brag is this: you don't need a pedigree to push pixels and you don't need to have what the pros use either (unless your job/career demands it). Honing your chops can be done near free if you are willing to open up to Open Source. And if you are to venture into Linuxville, be prepared to have your eyes opened.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Linux is sustainable computing.

I have been hinting at Win7's being an improvement over XP and Vista. That is an observation not an endorsement. I know many are hooked into the Microsoft thing. That is fine with me but I do recommend Open Source Software especially to the droves of you who are tight of wallet or purse. Those of you who are concerned over legal end user agreements and activation procedures, copyrights and actually owning the software you acquired will also benefit from Open Source Software. As for the rest of you, buy a Mac (really BSD/Unix/whatever, (whisper, whisper)) or like me, go Linux all the way.

Here in the Linuxville guide chateau, I waited for a particular Linux upgrade. Ubuntu 9.10 became official yesterday and despite the droves of netizens all after it, I weighed in. First downloading Ubuntu (Gnome desktop), then Kubuntu (KDE desktop). Finally I did the online upgrade from Ubuntu 9.04 to Ubuntu 9.10, it took far too long (5 hours). If I had a DVD burner, I could have backed up all my files and did a fresh install (always better and a lot less time). I think because I have a mixed system, KDE on Ubuntu, I don't know if there are any performance benefits. Maybe down the road I will consider the fresh install to see. In any case you need a plan to do the job or you will lose personal data and program configs and settings.

After watching Microsoft trying to appeal to my child side in their Win7 commercials, I am totally convinced you have to be a pretty smart kid to use their stuff. Very few of us are smarter than a 5th grader (TV show). Then another Microsoft bashing from Mac's arrogant, snobbish, bad boy, wise guy, the rebel, anti-establishment, etc. The better at business or better at personal creativity and freedom thing is old (we still fall for it!).

So what is Linux compared to Mic and Mac? Linux never hid it's Unix roots. Linux is what happens when software engineers design something for themselves. They have invited average personal computer users into their world by developing a graphical user interface that has familiar elements and bells and whistles. Linux can be simple or complex, small or large, can be configured to run on a wristwatch or a mainframe. Linux is sustainable computing. Linux is intelligent, yet you can do kid stuff, business stuff, creative stuff, any stuff. Of all the Linux distributions I have tried I like the Ubuntu family. It is user friendly in both the software and the community concerning the desktop. Community means you can talk to other users and the designers also. Linux is also a workhorse on the server side, the backbone of the world's communication network. The configuration designed to run on your PC is the superb genius of countless software designers. Traditionally it is called a distribution or distro, I call it a Linux solution.

I only have one out cry, "Stella! Stella!, err a, how is Linux free? How can they do this for free? They don't. Many software designers work for firms, get paid to develop Linux. Money is made selling CD/DVD's and on support services and custom designing systems. So, you can buy the disc, the services or download Linux for free. It is similar for Open Source Software, and if you want you can donate funds to support it, you can.

At first it was kind of awkward to leave the Mic and Mac show behind, now I love it and don't lack anything. So, once again I leave it up to you to choose. Under the current definitions of sustainability, Linux is sustainable computing!!!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Your computer, it really gets personal

It really is a personal computer. You get this interface and it becomes yours. Like the Twilight Zone, you control the horizontal, the vertical and you learn what to expect when you do this and when you do that. Hey, don't do that or know!

I've used XFCE, Gnome, KDE, Fluxbox, Openbox, Enlightenment and several other Linux desktops. If you are immediately struck with any of them you are bound to learn all the secrets, shortcuts and workarounds to make navigating your personal computer desktop efficient for yourself. I have gone from not tweaking much with one desktop to tweaking everything to get it right on another. I am still hard pressed to recommend one of them, depends on what you are willing to deal with and what looks good to you.

Today I am exploring the world of Ubuntu Linux with KDE eyes. KDE has improved over the years and although I was never a through thick-n-thin fan, I waited for what its become today, pretty impressive. KDE is not a skinny resource sipping desktop, it's robust, a lot of the bells and whistles have been consolidated and trimmed. This is due to all the progress made in desktop effects and a settling down among folks determined to out do MS and Apple (my opinion). Good job KDE folks, good job!

Your Linuxville guide is always in the love/hate mode when it comes to Linux distros. There is stuff in this distro and stuff in that, it is maddening. Sort of like going to buy a car, you want a Chevy Impala, they ask "you want the vanilla version, the sporty version or the luxury version?" The difference? Seat covers, wheel covers and your public image.

There are several distros that flaunt themselves as artist oriented distros. This usually means they come standard with audio,video, graphical software in some mix.

Ubuntu Studio is DVD sized and is multi-media focused.

ArtistX is also Ubuntu based and is multi-media focused and is DVD size.

OpenArtist is DVD size, has some multi-media stuff but is visual art focused. OpenArtist has all kinds of special configuration scripts to make certain apps work better for drawing and then work with each other.

Puppy Artist Workshop is a version of Puppy Linux. This is a CD size distro. It doesn't try to have it all, just what is useful for most of us pixel pushers. Puppy is a special design of its own. It is not based on Ubuntu, Red Hat or Slackware.

The weird thing is that most folks don't even know you can even do anything in Linux, let alone art of any kind. There is a long list of applications both commercial and open source. The open source stuff is free quality software, you just have to use it and get to know it. Gimp and Inkscape have most if not all of the tools and techniques found in Photoshop and Illustrator. The interfaces are different, some work flows are different and some file formats. Like I said there is a long list and I don't think this one has them all. The kicker is most open source software has MS Windows versions and well as the Linux versions.

So, you can change your OS if you want or not. My attitude is this if you got school kids and they need to write reports and papers, use free software. If you need to train for a job and must have MS Office, buy it. I recommend Open Office Write, AbiWord, IBM Symphony, or KDE's KWord, all are great word processors, free and will produce .doc format documents. I think I like KWord the best. But don't blame me if you get reverse sticker shock. If you want to compensate the writers and developers for their free and open source software offerings, most will take donations to continue their efforts. It's sort of like public radio, commercial free and community supported.

And me, my reasons for using open source software, they come with Linux so I use them. I have a kind a liberty where I don't worry about the price or if I can afford to buy commercial software, because I have all what I need in open source. There is a silent chant in the working world that says "everybody's using Microsoft stuff, so I need to do likewise to be compatible." For 99.5% of the computer users, compatible means "makes standard Microsoft document formats." If other programs can do that you are off the hook. That is how I verify wither or not I need to buy a MS based product. It was the same regarding MS Windows as an operating system. This new Windows 7 will be a game changer though, it is looking better than both XP and Vista, time will tell. But for me another big reason for using open source software is near-zero end user agreements or authorizations and no activations, the software I acquired can be installed on all my machines. I can pass them around to friends and they can do the same without threat of legal reprisals.

Ok, there is one problem that users have, it's sort of like stigma. We hate to use stuff that others around us aren't using. No one likes being the odd ball. It's also kind of ironic how we want to be unique but not different. The TV commercials exploit this, notice that while MS and Mac vie, Linux and open source is not mentioned at all. Also you don't see this stuff on the store shelves, so it is not on your radar. Having been thoroughly informed and entertained in the media and assured by seeing MS and Mac stuff on the shelves, it is a no-brainer choice. Now after you spent your money, committed your time and energy, I come along and say Linux can do what the other guys can do and do it for free. All you can say is "but".

Relax, you have entered the "Linux Zone", it is different here, yet you still get the job done.

Monday, September 28, 2009

hey man, what it look like?

Been pondering how to describe Linux to someone who doesn't know much about it. I try not to mention MS or Mac in my description, it starts the unfair comparison mill a turning. When the well known are the bench mark, a new comer is at a disadvantage. Well Linux is not new, just under exposed. If you can examine things on their own merit, there is less baggage to set aside. We shouldn't always grab for the better until we see enough of it to make a valid judgment.

But having said that, if you don't want to mess up your Microsoft thing, the Linux live CD is the way to go. Other than that the closest you can get to what Linux is like is the applications that are common to both platforms. Open source software is a no-brainer. I've been using Open Office developed by Sun, IBM's Lotus Symphony, Abiword, and Kword. Macro language is the only big difference between these and MS Office. If you don't need it don't waste your money.
If you "google" you'll find it on the net, and it's free.

Well, I think the wait is over, I fixed my first laptop with Microsoft's Win7 on it. It was not the beta version. I only did a hardware power button fix but I did get to boot up Win7 and shutdown. Seems to be faster start up and shutdown and be a little less annoying while running. Annoying means bothering me with stuff I don't want to do at the moment. Since it wasn't my computer I haven't lived with Win7 so I can't tell if this pleasant encounter will sustain itself. This person did complain about not being able to shutdown the PC without it re-starting. My personal opinion is that mousepads are too touchy, triggering clicks when you just want to position the cursor. The mousepad should just move the cursor and let the keys do the clicking. If gestures are really used (double tapping, etc.) it would be less annoying if it discriminated between moving and clicking better. This is the very reason most still use a mouse. Gee, I wonder if you can tell a mousepad user from a mouse user? Maybe the fingerprints on their pad finger is worn away.

Here is an invention idea, "the laptop tray". You are sitting with your honey who's watching TV and complaining, "I'm lonely, come watch TV with me, don't stay in the other room at the computer." You got stuff to do, so you bring your laptop and mouse in the TV area. Balancing a laptop and mouse on a lap is awkward and being hunched over coffee table is worse. The laptop tray to the rescue. Looks like an ordinary dinner tray but wider. There is room for laptop and mouse movement, plus can be plastered with any theme deemed appropriate, all the while being useful as a snack server or food fight shield when needed as such.

I have heard it many times fixing computers, "my kids play with my laptop". It looks it! So, set the laptop in one place and get a remote keyboard for their use. Wireless or USB, the kids can use and abuse, spill, drop and cough on it. Your laptop will have less wear and tear.

There is a big issue in the world with user passwords that can be fixed with a simple statement. "Passwords should not be a word." Please don't give me that I need to remember it speech. With the speed of todays computers and the complexity of todays search algorithms, you can't rely on "only I know the name of my dog Tiny". Even tiny937c is weak. I won't tell you how to do it, you have to be creative like "t9i3n7yc". It has the same letters and numbers as tiny937c. You must realize that email, the internet, any network is open access until you the system admin or user closes the door. If you need to lock the door, don't leave the key around for the guy with the bar of soap. It is your privacy, you can't be nonchalant. If a typo can hold up your getting social security benefits, imagine what a hackers' computer "guess" will allow them to do. Now get in there and mix it up a bit!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Linux knows the desktop game well

PC-ball is the game and the platform wars are played in public. There is no mystery to the behind the scenes of MS and Mac. They are the darlings of the press and stars of TV and Internet. The glamor and the glitz and even the tech press follow the head honchos, the products and the fans. But have you ever wondered what goes on in the Linux camps. The Linus Crew is illusive at times, you'd never know unless they tell you. Linux though famous in the internet infrastructure is not the "commercial success" on the desktop. But then again they have not played by the same rules from the get. The amazing thing is that the results are the same, when they hit the platform playing field, they play well! I won't hold you in suspense:

This was my PC running XFCE on Xubuntu 8.06. No menus or programs open, very clean, simple efficient and fast. Works on PCs with low resources. I also like Openbox and Fluxbox desktops, both not too hard to tweak. These all have that handy right mouse click screen menu, as well as the icon button in the bar.

This is the same PC after I upgraded to Ubuntu 9.04 with Gnome desktop. I added some Screenlet apps on the right, but I rather have stuff in the bar on the top. The bar on the bottom is auto-hidden.

This last one is my PC running the same Ubuntu 9.04 but the latest KDE 4.3.1 is on deck. KDE was trying out different approaches, when the dust settled they all became options, only sleek and improved. I now can say I like KDE a lot.

As you can see some of the elements of each desktop are the same and some have their own twist or flavor. XFCE and Gnome share the same programming library and KDE uses a different library. There are applications that favor one desktop or another, some made to integrate better or are made outright for a particular desktop. The user needn't worry, whatever resources any application needs is installed as needed. This means that stuff meant for one desktop will seamlessly install and work on others. So, over time I have tried various desktops and various applications to find ones I prefer. The human tendency is to stick with one and suffer with it no matter what. Linux gives you the option to suffer less, but you must look into it and it is OK to ask for help.

There is only one big fuzzy Linux. When, you focus it for server work, you don't even need a GUI! You can make a kiosk appliance out of it, a video toaster, an email/internet machine, a general use PC, a gaming machine, an engineering workstation and more. What ever your focus is, Linux can serve in that niche. The one thing for certain is that you don't have to suffer with one approach and share the misery with every single user and have no power to change it. In the Linux developer camps, coders massage all the elements to being various solutions to the front. Then you can pick which solutions fit your needs. Most times you see what others are using and go with that. After you become familiar with this world your options expand. You can start with a minimum or the max.

The GUI is the Graphical User Interface or the human compatibility layer. It should be adjustable to fit you. Then there are applications that take full advantage of the GUI and do anything you can imagine. The caveat, you must realize that just because an application is not in professional use, like Photoshop or MS Office Suite, doesn't mean that the same or similar quality, work flow or output is not there. So if you don't need the proware, can't afford the proware, you don't have to do without or be obligated to beg, borrow or steal the proware. Skills are transferable, cut your grits on Linux and Open Source software now and when to get to MS or Mac you are not starting from scratch. But I will warn you now, Linux and Open Source are lovable and habit-forming, you may find Linux is fine for you.

If you are so MS struck and want to try Linux, you can use the Live-CD Linux. With Live-CDs you boot from the CD, Linux runs in RAM memory, you can save to a jump drive and when you shut down, Linux is gone from your PC without a trace. You can install Linux on the same hard drive as MS Windows and dual boot. You'd have to make a separate partition because MS and Linux are not compatable. The best is to have two hard drives, one for each operating system. Linux has a boot loader called GRUB, it pops up a menu screen to let you select to start MS Windows or Linux. MS Windows doesn't offer that. There are other ways to run two operating systems, it gets quite techie.

I am not saying that Linux is rooky stuff, it's more like American League vs National League vs International League. Globally everybody knows the game, but in the International League the flavors are more diverse. We are so hooked on two team sports, time to introduce a new level of play. Now to level the playing field things like fonts and document formats that travel cross-operating system-platforms must be out of the control of any operating system company, they shouldn't be OS dependent. Then we can play PC-ball with our best stuff and the fans will go wild.

Friday, September 18, 2009

home after the PC-ball game

Home after the PC-ball game and my adrenalin is still running. That Linus Crew makes it all look so easy. The flash-n-dash of the other guys is OK for entertainment, but I just don't like being distracted by the bench while the play is going on. I could see a day when the GUI is the product of contention and the OS is the backend. It's the year 2020, the commercial opens by the ZXY GUI company, This is ZXY and this is ZXY on MS, or on Mac. Will those two ever stop? Then a zoom out and the commercial is running in ZXY on Linux!! The vintage Batman theme music plays and a smiling Gnu and Penguin shake hands............a subliminal flash of Stallman and Torvalds.

I think the computer is a crazy creative outcome of a lot of childhood dreams. There was the kid with the purple crayon in story books and a college professor Mr. Woopee on the cartoon Tennessee Tuxedo with the 3dBB (three dimensional black board), and another one had Clyde Crashcup and Leonardo who had that pencil that could virtualize anything. And what about that cat named Felix, whose bag could transform into anything? It goes on and on about some contraption that could materialize what we visualize. We seemed bent on making something out of nothing. Even when computers were invented to manipulate numbers and text, who would have thought that pictures and graphics be next? It is ironic that a machine able to do anything can do nothing without constraint. What's constraint? Constraint is an instruction set that focuses and limits all that talent into procedures that accomplish stuff, you know software.

And what about the display, the picture thing? I still have two bulky CRT monitors that haunt my computer room. They can't compete with the LCD screen on my desk. Today we have laptops and tablet PCs that make the 3dBB a reality. It is all pretty radical for the short time this all was developed in and we haven't even talked about printers. I remember when I bought my first Polaroid camera and the picture slid out the back, developing in my hand. Now that any cheapo desktop printer can pop out a quality photo, camera use is through the roof. I would venture to say most picture taking never sees print. Pictures are the way we converse, "a thousand words" and all. And with the invention of "YouTube", video clips are common stuff for many PC and cellphone users.

What is going to happen to us when we can get one small device that combines phone, camera, Blackberry type functions and services, TV remote, any Bluetooth devices, the garage door opener, house lights and the toilet lid? It eventually will have no buttons and is voice controlled. "Anything you say will be.........." MS will counter with the Jedi mind chip and the malware guys will introduce the mind trick virus. Macs will go retro, a device with one button.
Gad man, will those two ever stop?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

live at the Linuxville sports arena.

We are playing PC-ball, the court is a large circle divided into 3 sectors. There are three baskets in the center, one facing each sector. That's three backboards and three times the rebounds. Play is fierce as three teams are elbows and knees flying in all directions and the sound of the crowd is deafening. Bill's guys are goal tending, Steve's are zoned and entrenched. Linus' crew is at home in the outer ring shooting balls like putting dollars in pockets, nuthin but net, baby, nuthin but net! The sponsors are all in turmoil, the bucks to develop their teams, the commercials, the fanwear. They can't imagine the upstart Linus crew's longevity and tenaciousness, "they don't even have a marketing machine", yet they persist on nothin but net.

A little background on the Linus crew. He envisioned his team and put his plan on the net. Calls came from all over the world to contribute and play. Over time the skills were amassed, the strategies perfected and the members proven in serious contention. The naysayers wondered if the Linus crew would ever stir the imaginations of easily disgrunted fans out from under their user complacency. They are on their feet, squawking like penguins, throwing ice cubes and trying to fly. Nuthin but net, nuthin but net! Linux was born on the net. This is where you will find all that Linux is.........

The teams file out. Bill's team saying "we won, didn't we?", Steve's team fires back, "I thought we played well, why are the fans cheering for them?" It didn't matter, you are playing in Linuxville, it's not a flaw, its a feature!!

The PC sport writers did their best to keep the Linus crew in the back office for years. The thought of the Linus team out front on the courts and who thunk up this round tri-court anyway? The Linux vets all reminisce about the old days, weren't too keen about this new day and the fans and the paparazzo. Rumor has it that the person in the penguin costume is a real penguin, only bigger. And who can resist the sublime smile of that Gnu, so assuridly confident. The Linux vets all lean forward with anticipation as something they long forgotten rattles in their bones and errupts from their firmly set jaws, "nuthin but net" they cry.

In the annals and archieves of public libraries amid the thousands of books about Bill's and Steve's dominating the sport, Linus' crew gets spot recognition sort of like the tiddly-wink death match weird Willy and Jackyboy had in the back alley in the summer of 97, who knew? Today one by one, corporate folk and institutional folk are starting to realize the history of the PC-sport is tantinted without the Linus crews' contribution. We users of the street ball style all knew one day the truth would be revealed and PC-ball revitalized, and revolutionized. The Linux story is not one of domination but one of inclusion in the game. "Dawg man, they play pretty good!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

3rd dimension and desktop support

I am starting to consider 3D art again. A few years ago I played with software called Rhino 3D that ran on XP. It was beta software at the time and today is quite developed and expensive so I don't own a copy of Rhino 3D. On the Linux platform, there are a bunch of 3D applications to explore. I was looking at Art of Illusion, a Java application and Equinox-3d and of course Blender 3d. I am settling on Blender 3d because of the well documented features and the how-to videos that show you where to start. The videos take away the fear of the reportedly imposing interface menus and huge learning curve. These videos should be the benchmark for all Linux graphic applications. Having wonderful features are meaningless if you have no clue of the workflows to get things done. The videos cut to the chase and illuminate the manuals. Blender has a wonderful magazine, same format as the Ubuntu Fullcircle magazine. It is in pdf format, downloadable or on-line readable and very cool. It's at

In computer art there is two things that get you there. Repeatable results is the first, as you can plug in all the parameters, make the same moves and produce the similar results as someone else. And also by making adjustments produce totally different results which is the second. You can discover what stuff works for you, the way you work, what you like to see. Anywhere along the process you can change and adjust things. You just can't do this with traditional art media to the same extent. So, today I begin the process of learning by looking at the tutorials and videos.

Another cool thing I get to do is be a Linux guide (haven't reached guru status). People are starting to explore Linux but need help with ways not familiar to them. Like when you dual-boot, how to adjust the boot time allotted for choosing which OS runs and which OS is the default. The OS boot chooser is called GRUB and the program to change GRUB is called STARTUP MANAGER. Startup Manager is usually not included in the original install, so you have to add it. I really hope the two programs can be integrated together someday, it would make life with Linux easier.

Why do Linux newbies get trounced by Linux vets? It is a simple thing but everybody must take their share of the blame. New folk want instant answers but don't want to do any research, homework or trial and error. They rather have someone explain it in simple precise terms. Most new to Linux folk are so smart and computer savvy they don't need no stinking manual, right. NO, the desktop GUI is the human compatibility layer, made so that you can transfer your MS and Mac skills with minimal confusion. The Linux behind the desktop is new to you, you know little of that and will have to learn what that is all about.

Linux vets have the reverse problem. They know too much and especially in the areas of their focus, not usually the Linux desktop. Linux has been used by mostly server admin, coders, developers and engineers. I have been to Linux groups where I was the only desktop junkie. System admin, coders, developers are usually far down the Linux road, it is retro to help newbies. I will admit that after I install and setup Linux to where it works I may not fuss with it until I want to change distros. It just works and I move on and forget what I've done. This has been my complaint for a long time, there are no Linux desktop support persons (for the general desktop), mostly system admin with server and corporate experience. I want to tell newbies so badly to read the blankety manual, but the need for desktop Linux support is what is aparent.

Now you must understand that learning materials, help sites, forums, distro sites are all on the net and aren't hard to find if you can "google". Linux was born on the net and has grown up on the net. Even though you can find Linux on some store shelves and get support from a few name-branded companies (Red Hat, Suse, Canonical), the majority of help to users is the experience from other users on the net. I would say Linux is 9% market and 91% after-market. Now say it with me, "it's not a flaw, it's a feature!" Linux is a different world.

So, Linux newbies must learn to research a little more and Linux vets must realize the desktop user is a new Linux phenomena and requires support (mouse-side manner). This is why I am a Linux guide, I know nothing of coding, and a small bit of server stuff, most of my experience is on the desktop, using applications. And just the same as MS and Mac users, I don't care about the OS as much as the applications to get what I want done. The Linux desktop GUI wins for me. I am not recomending the text input command line answer if a GUI solution is handy, but if that is the only way to do it quickly.............

Thursday, September 10, 2009

go educate yourself

Nothing new here at the Linuxville guide desk, beside putting #!Crunchbang Linux on my spare PC. Everything is running smooth and causing all sorts of normal computer fun. On the internet though is where incremental improvements in life are noted. The first is the downloadable Ubuntu magazine called Full Circle. It is a very cool pdf mag. It has got techie stuff and average user stuff and............... you check it out yourself.

Then I don't know what to make of this yet, it is a web site that lets read about Linux applications and install them. It is more descriptive than the on board application installer Synaptics or Add/Remove. It is called All My Apps and it also is pretty cool, go educate yourself.

Hey, Go Educate Yourself!! It's not a smart-aleck smirk, but an asking kindly (with strong emphasis). I was just at a friend's home who had some computer problems. They wanted my expert advice on XP problems. I could not because I am a Linux user, have been for 10 years, I don't deal with XP on a day to day bases. So, I am not an XP expert. When I told them this, they said what's Linux? I tried to explain, then I whipped out a live-CD of #!Crunchbang Linux, popped it in their machine and showed them. There were questions and concerns and lots of computer superstitions (this is normal). These were typical XP users who had no awareness that Linux existed or what it was like if they heard of it before. I liberally used the words "free", "open source" and "don't have to install it, but you can" and "user support is available". Also I mentioned that a lot of open source software comes in both Linux and Windows versions. Most Microsoft users are so blinded by commercial name-brand software, they don't even realize that the computing world is bigger than that and more accessible. The days of poor quality freeware/shareware are over and "open source" insist on a high level of quality and usefulness.

The other thing typical XP users aren't used to doing is getting help when they need it. I learned to open Google, type in my question or go to computer user web sites, forums and ask my questions there. I almost always get help or pointed in the right direction. "Oh, I didn't know I could do that!!" Yes, this is what web browsers and search engines do best. If you have to get an expert, chances are this is what they do if experience or memory is short.

To say it plainly Microsoft users look to Microsoft for help, which is why they wind up calling a technician (expert). Linux users look to each other for help, this pool includes the casual user and the advance technician, programmer and developer, plus commercial support is available if you need that. An awful lot of problems are solved and fixed before I even install the software. Both the operating system, the libraries, utilities and applications receive updates. Now most of Linux troubles are installation and setup, if you have them. Once you are past that, Linux just works. That has been my experience in the past 10 years.

I have two computers, an HP with Ubuntu Linux and one I built that dual-boots XP and #!Crunchbang Linux. I only use XP when I have to which is rare. If I did'n need to refresh my XP experience to help other computer users I could eliminate XP with no remorse.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

serious art fun in Linuxville

Hi folks, I am writing from a remote location today, the other end of my desk. Perched atop a printer stand, my spare PC is humming and sporting #!Crunchbang Linux. Here's a screenshot of this desktop at rest.

Like the glass! The white lettering on the top right is called Conky, it's a system monitor display and below has a note area which shows keyboard shortcuts. Man that is genius! A heads up display!
The next is another wallpaper I devised:

Making your own wallpaper is awesome fun. I am finding out just what I can do with Linux graphics applications. I am using Inkscape for vector drawing and GIMP for bit-map drawing. Using both together gives you a wide range of possibilities. If you like dabbling in art and especially if you are light on investment resources, Inkscape and GIMP are available in Linux and MS Windows versions, are free to download and............what's keeping you!?!

If you are serious about art then you must get these to play with, but I will warn you about when play gets serious. When my wife calls to eat dinner, I have artist withdrawal symptoms.

My latest puzzle is trying to figure out how to draw a concave shape. There are lots of tutorials on how to draw a button with a raised look, but not a dished look. It is a matter of how the light strikes the surface and give the illusion of depth. In GIMP it is easy using bump map techniques (emboss and engrave filters). With Inkscape it is different but still possible.
Here's my progress so far of a square dinner plate.

The one on the left is my first attempt, you really can't tell if it's a bump or a dish. The right side is more dished. The shift in light on various areas clues you to what you see. I will use these types of shapes as design elements in a future project. I just wanted to show that the intrigue for some of us is not in the meaning of the subject matter, it's the elements that enable the story to be told. We design the characters, build a composition and present a work. A big part of the story is what you behold in a certain context.

The computer as an artist tool allows you to use various techniques to put all the elements together. It can sketch pencil style if that is how you work or work with photos or allow you to model realistic looking objects, cartoonish objects and mimic the look of traditional art media. But when it is all said and done either it is viewed on the computer monitor, movie screen or it is printed on some flat surface. Any resemblance of texture is illusionary or a part of the surface it is printed on, maybe even added by the artist. This is the nature of the media, it is what it is. One day we will probably have a printer ink that will puff up in some way to add texture, I don't know. I have come to believe computer printed art is like silk screen, litho-prints, stamp art, photography or any other flat image to paper transfer method. We have a way to control the color and value and placement of a dot. The software makes it seem like you are using a pencil, pen, brush, bucket of paint, typewriter and eraser. You can draw a micro-dot or a billboard. It can be virtual (on the screen) or printed out. You have to know that the computer itself doesn't do squat until you tell it. Even automatic art requires a programmer.
What a computer does depends on you the artist.

The traditional art establishment still has a hard time with computer art. How do you put a high value on art where the original is a computer file and every printout is almost an exact duplicate. I say almost because it depends on the type of printer, the quality of the inks and the quality of the material it is printed on. Sort of makes the actual file being printed anti-climatic. It also blows the rarity/age factor out the window. You do a painting, it is the only one, to reproduce it is impossible. So you photograph it, scan it and print it in limited editions to hold it's value. In computer art all the prints are exact dupes of the original computer file. Like I said, value is by a different group of factors. If the file gets out on the internet, you loss the means to control both it's value and the revenue due you. So you can see why art folks are having a time dealing with this computer art thing. It pretty much the similar as with music artist. The modern technology has helped music be more available and cut the flow of revenue to the artist. The only way is for artist to have total ownership of their own work and have transparent channels of distribution. Today's channels of distribution are anything but transparent.

I don't know how or if things will change for the better. Artist all have struggles, the drive to create is so strong and the way to make a living while creating is so precarious. It is about where you are located and who you know and how you are seen............and me your humble Linuxville guide, am in the mix. I will probably not move to the big city (Microsoft OS) or that other well known tech town (Mac OS), here in Linuxville we will endeavor to make a name for ourselves (we have a global presence too!).

generations, acquired tastes and talking like a native

Sitting here at my Linuxville desk, the technical wonders never cease. Like that big 17" CRT monitor I treasured for years has a blurry display. No matter how I adjust it, degauss or hit the side (blunt force trauma adjustment method), it is still fuzzy. I guess it is time to recycle and replace it. In the meantime I have a 14" CRT that's crisp and clear and the text it so tiny. Tiny text means you have to look intently to read, large text only requires glance recognition. I also have a 15" LCD on my main Linux PC that's spot on perfect for how I view it on my desk. A bigger monitor and I could sit back, replace my desk chair with a lounge chair.

Having two PC's up and running is quite interesting. Two screens, two keyboards and two humming boxes. You always wonder how many programs, windows and internet activities you can do at the same time. For me I have one PC for serious play and one for just play. What is handy though is when I am working on some art project and I need to look at the manual or seek expert advice on the web. Then the extra PC is real handy. So I think they should beef up the dual and quad core CPUs with 2 gig of RAM for each core and a channel to their own video output. To have two PCs in the same box would be maddening fun.

Yes, yes, I am technically involved but I have neighbors who sit on their porch all day with their laptop. I bet they are heavy gamers. The mark of the baby-boom generation was drugs, sex and rock-n-roll, this new generation does games, cellphone talking and texting and social networking. The virtual thing is gone wild. Even in art the younger folks are into photo-realism in still art and animation. Intricate detail of immense proportion for total immersion of the senses. Gee, I am so old school. I like simplicity and my art to look like it was drawn by a human hand and my music to have layers, space between notes and rhythm. I do, on occasion, use John Coltrane's music to degauss my mind every now and then. Jazz remains an acquired taste wasted on the masses. Light jazz as they call it is not really jazz but popular music. It's like living in a boarder town in a mix of folks not committed to either country.

Old folks like to physically gather as attested by the local computer group. Mostly 40 years and up and Microsoft loyalist they are, mostly. The organized topics of discussions are about what they can do with their PCs. The younger folks like as I said virtual social networking, Facebook and such. We still think virtual is safer and thus reveal too much info about ourselves. A phrase or a photo can do a lot of damage. Then the virtual is used to hide a lot, to deceive, to twist and outright lie. Virtual setups do not ensure or protect personal integrity, so you the user have to be on guard (watch your own back!).

In the past I have said Linuxville is like the Village on "The Prisoner" TV show, but it is more like "Northern Exposure". The moose replaced by a Gnu and a Penguin and every person a unique and interesting personality. There are endless episodes and the flavor is laid back, always turns out OK. There is no rush to get here or hurry to leave. Once you decide to stay, where you've been fades in the distance over time. Before you know it, your talking like a native.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

total tech immersion

Today I had a total tech immersion. First I got out the vacuum, tracked down and confronted every dust bunny from behind the desk to inside the PCs. Then I decided it was time to rebuild my older PC. I had a different case that was 5 pounds lighter than the old one. I stripped out all the parts down to the motherboard, moved the power supply, mounted all the drives. It was a good time to rearrange things for a more efficient solution.

The hardest part was plugging in all the wires, good thing I had a diagram that maps out what is what. I got it all together and plugged it in, it didn't work. I checked out all the details but had the unit on it's side. It finally worked and I was into XP before you know it. Now wait! I installed two hard drives, I just wanted to see if it all worked.

Then I slipped in the Linux live CD. This one was called Crunchbang, a remix of Ubuntu I mentioned in a previous blog post. I made sure the CD player was the first boot device, hit the button, Crunchbang booted up. I found the disk partioner supplied with Crunchbang, divied the drive into two pieces, a main one and a swap area. Then I hit install, followed the prompts and soon Crunchbang was installed. So when I boot up I can select XP or Crunchbang Linux and roll with it.

Of course the day wasn't finished until I had sound and could play my collection of YouTube videos in .flv format. It worked right out the box, I still can't do that in XP. Then I needed a picture viewer that could made a displayed pic a wallpaper. I am set now. Crunchbang is not bad to be so lean. Now I will tell you the secret of computer life. Get a smallish drive just for the operating system and installed applications. Put your stuff on a different drive. This will save you much agony in the long run.

Well I'd better shutdown and sleep or I'll be up two days before you know it. What a day!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

linux live on a computer near you

Linuxville offers a unique feature that other OSs do not offer, the live CD. Think of it as a postcard that virtually takes you there or a travel show highlighting all the sights and sounds. The live CD of Linux allows you to peruse and cruise, to check it out, play with it and try it to see if you like it. And when you are done you can remove the disk, your present PC installation is untouched, unchanged. You on the other hand are changed forever because you have experienced the wonders of Linuxville, even if for just a moment.

The live CD serves another purpose. Lets say you use Linux but don't want to change your Windows PC's because other folks use it and prefer that OS. You can again pop in the disk, use Linux and save your personal settings and files to a jump drive or external Hard drive. This makes Linux very portable and handy for use on any computer.

There are limitations with live CDs. You get what you get. Someone has decided for you what applications are on the CD. Then some Linux versions come on live DVDs to include everything, but what if you don't have a DVD player? What if all the stuff included is just in the way? The hottest geek trend today is called remastering or remixing the live CD. This usually requires an installed Linux system (from the CD onto your PC) and the tools to remaster or remix the collection of files to your liking. You take the Live CD as a base and begin to swap out applications you don't care for, for ones that you do. When it is finished you create a new iso file to burn onto a blank CD with the stuff you yourself have chosen.

I'll give an example. There is a Linux called Artistx which comes on a live DVD. It has applications for graphics plus audio and video production which I don't need. Also the desktop GUI or window manager is not right for me. I chose a live CD which has the remastering tools, install that on my PC. Since the same applications are available, I can use the online software repository to find what I want to add and remove the stuff not needed. This is a dilemma for developers, what to include and what to exclude. The half empty/half full question still plagues us. Believe me, it is easier to install stuff than remove stuff, not a big deal but an annoyance.

Now with the newly remastered or remixed live CD in hand I can pop it into the PC and get to work using the stuff I prefer. This custom live CD is handy to carry in your bag. This is the portability angle and the custom angle together. The fact that Linux doesn't tie you to one computer is really cool. Linux can be everywhere without being installed on everything or on anything. My plan is this, to remaster a version of Linux with the applications I am most likely to use, mainly graphic applications, a PDF reader, a light weight document writer and a web browser. This also makes a great demo to show friends because it is stuff I use.

The other options are to carry your laptop around and or buy an USB drive to install your other operating system on. That is not a bad solution either. An installed system runs way faster than off the live CD. The Linux live CD serves as a show-n-tell device and as a rescue disk when a disk drive gets hosed.

Show-n-tell and try-n-see, man you can't beat that! You can buy Linux off the net cheap or download for free if your bandwidth is not constrained. And it is not hard to learn more than one operating system (it's point-n-click). But MS is what folks use at work, at school..........Linux has the same looks and feels and tools, windows, icons and will make documents in the same formats. Linux is no different than MS or Mac, is not foreign or alien or cryptic or rocket science. If all you want is to click the mouse, Linux does that well and rocket science too, and it is free.

Even if you are staunch OS loyalist, brand-name customer for life, or a I got to go with the crowd person, having a Live-CD disk of Linux around will broaden your perspectives about computers.

Sheesh, you want endorsements! OK I endorse Ubuntu Linux and have been using Linux of various sorts for 10 years. I, your humble Linuxville guide, am not a corporate system admin, programmer, software developer, engineer or avid gamer, just perhaps a tad bit of a typical user. No deep mucky muck here. I find Linux practical and useful and fun.

So glide on over to ubuntu or Linux live-CD if you want a different choice.

Also check out and type "rno" in the search bar to behold my artistic endeavors. No MS or Mac products were used in making this art, this is Linuxville, you know!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Life in Linuxville

Linuxville is a lot like "The Village" in the old TV show "The Prisoner", a lot of old school characters that have settled in and new detainees who have yet to learn why they are here. You keep saying "I am not a penguin". Relax, we are not stranded on an iceberg, that's the air conditioning on high......and there are more than one kind of penguin! Besides, you look good in black and white, fish is healthy (omega3) and the guy in the Batman comics is not one of us.

Day to day life here is intoxicating, there is so much to explore and Linux makes this possible through the Live-CD and bootable jump drives. It is hard to resist changing your whole computer install. There is always a more interesting distro, with features other distros don't have. You will find yourself wondering how to get that feature in your distro of choice. I'm not trying to stir up the wonderlust for distro-hopping. But if you are prone, it is good to be prepaired.

Dual disk drives, USB drives, jump drives all help if you want to make switching distros permanent. Most just want to look and see (live-CDs are so cool!). If you are prone to change, put your data files on a separate drive.

In a dusty corner of my hobble I have some old laptops I wanted to put a skinny Linux on. You know tiny hard drives and meager RAM, Win 95 units. I fished around through various Linux distros, two seemed to work, Feather Linux and Dynebolic 1.4.1 (older version).

I also found a lean-n-mean Ubuntu based distro, a rather surprising find someone mentioned, "Crunchbang Linux". It uses Openbox for the GUI, so it is so uncluttered with gadgets it's unencumbered, fast. Like Yoda says, "just do, there is no try!", quite snappy. The black theme is black but not sinister, or evil as some think black is. If black is evil then the current trend for black packaged computer cases is taking us all to heck. I know with Ubuntu the brown themes are hard to swallow for some. White can be evil, if you think that. It is said that dark themes are more energy conserving that light ones on a monitor. Now blue as in BSOD (blue screen of death) is evil!?! Black is very clean, crisp, modern and can be changed, if you don't do black. There is a on-screen list of keyboard shortcuts on the Crunchbang desktop which is pure genius. Learning keyboard shortcuts takes constant reminding to get the habit down. All GUIs might benefit from a pop up app that does this. Hit the Win/Lin key, the shortcut pop up pops up and you never grab your mouse. Oh, the end of the mouse as we know it is near.

I have often ranted about the demise of the ATX case desktop in favor of a laptop without the screen. I have one of the older laptops and the screen is busted, so I took it off, plugged my extra monitor in the back. It looks good, just a tad bigger than my desktop keyboard because it is a laptop, but it is the whole computer. It slides where the keyboard goes and I don't have to reach under the desk to use the CD or USB ports. Gamers like their ATX but general users might appreciate a desktop that is no different from a laptop. Laptop makers might consider making the clam shell screen optional. With the clam shell LCD it's a laptop, without it's a compact desktop. I like this concept, it helps also to extend the life of laptops.

The wierd thing about computer life extension is that older RAM memory is more expensive than new RAM memory. Buying memory upgrades for an older computer is more expensive. It's not like they have to scrounge to find the older memory sticks. They are making you pay a premium price to upgrade your existing computer as an incentive to buy a whole new computer. But they don't give you a discount on the new computer for recycling the old computer. If you just curb it or closet it and it still works, you or somebody will want to upgrade it to use it. It's a conspiracy, they are trying to ram the RAM down our throats!?!

Monday, August 24, 2009

and to desktop it all off

If I had a sticker to put on my computer for everything I wanted to remember................ This is why I don't like icons on my desktop. It's sort of gets like refrigerator magnets gone wild. Does all that magnetic radiation effect your food? I learned to use a file manager to circumvent the icon fetish proliferation.

The Linux desktop is a wonderful place. It can be simple which I like or you can dress it up so finely arrayed, Mr. Klein would look for a label. I have tried a number of Linux desktops, XFCE, KDE, Gnome, Enlightenment, and others. Folks get vocal about their favorites because the desktop GUI is after all the face of the operating system. This is why people loved XP and hated Vista. In Linuxville there are camps that hold true to their beloved GUI of choice also. And this is one unique feature of Linux is that there are many GUIs to choose from.

YOU CAN'T WIN, or STOP THE NOISE!!!!!! Either you buy the OS with the one desktop GUI and put up with all the squeaks and grunts. Or you get hold of the free OS with multiple desktop GUIs and put up with rants and raves about those. I can't decide which Linux desktop is good for you, but I can recommend. Some of the choice is made for you when you choose a Linux distribution. But the main camps are KDE or Gnome, they are the full featured GUIs and if you need lighter there is XFCE. If you are more technically inclined you might venture into other desktop GUIs. In my travels, I started with XFCE on a distro called Xubuntu.

Now Xubuntu is Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop. My problem was this, as I added memory to my PC I also wanted to explore other desktop GUIs. Linux doesn't usually have problems with different libraries for running programs, but running multiple window managers can create conflicts if the integration is too tight. I installed Gnome along side XFCE in my Xubuntu and it never ran right. Now I changed my distro over to Ubuntu with the Gnome desktop, installed XFCE on the side and it runs just fine, I can choose either. This is what is meant by "mileage may vary". I think some development groups don't think in terms of flexibility, extendability, and changeability to the fullest extent. They compromise to a point, make decisions and that is the distro you get. In any case regular Ubuntu is fine for me and Gnome desktop is cool enough. I can start simple or escalate the desktop furniture to rival the refrigerator door.

Here is a shot of my present desktop:

It is simple, handy and workable for me. The bar across the top has my fast click stuff and the bar on the bottom you don't see hides when not needed. The picture display (right corner) changes and can search my folders or Flicker and I can make them wallpaper with a click. The time and date things are handy but I'd rather have them in the bar, unaffected by desktop changes. This stuff is called Screenlets, there are a lot of them to choose from, you can go crazy.
I have other things to do besides play with my desktop, you know. And once you get over the look what I can do on my desktop phase of life, practical considerations come forward. Having the "baddest" or "coolest" desktop becomes less an obsession, though I have given in to a steady state of change. So adding together the practical with "I think I'll try this", I get closer to nerdvana.

What's next for the Linuxville guide guy? Why rippling psychedelic Aurora Borealis and naked penguins in a row doing the can can across the screen............