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).