Friday, April 30, 2010

winds of change, but what's that smell?

OK, I just installed the latest Ubuntu 10.4 aka Lucid Lynx. Well it needs tweak'in and I just gotten to like the "Human" colors on Ubuntu 9.04-9.10. I was down with brown and being a brown guy myself, was groov'in on all things brown from rich Corinthian leather to chocolate bars. This purple haze thing is.........well good thing change is good.

Well, Ubuntu 10.4 is as fine as can be expected, boots a little faster, shuts down a lot faster. In between it is just Ubuntu which is very cool. But that Gnome Shell which I admired and enjoyed in the previous version does not work for me on my PC in this version. I am so disappointed, what a let down. Gnome Shell was very cool, yet needing some revising. I would have used it as is. It is coming but we will have to wait. Stay tuned for the sequel folks.

Why change? First of all let me say that change in Linux is normal, whether it is comfortable or not depends on how much work you have to do. This 10.4 version is what they call "LTS", which I think means Long Term Stable. Meaning it is the stable base from which minor upgrades will come until the next "LTS" version down the road. If you don't need to upgrade every whenever, you can just do it when the next "LTS" comes out and still be cool.

How do you prepare for change? Being a former Microsoft guy, now a Linux guy I think it is crazy to have one hard drive on a PC. With the advent of the thumb drive and the USB external drive, I think it is wise to put your personal files on a different drive than with the operating system and applications. This is very convenient for when your system crashes, the operating system gets hosed, you want to upgrade or you want to change. If you put your stuff on an external drive you don't have to back them up, just remove the USB and plug into another PC. Now if files are suspect you can remove them from the infected PC and scan them on a good one, and repair the OS separately or reinstall it.

For this change I bought two small thumb drives 2 gig each. I will eventually get a 4 or 8 gig for this file moving business. They are also handy for putting a boot-able OS on them, so cool. If you want a bigger thumb drive, the larger USB portable drives are better priced and bigger. I was at Best Buy the other day, a 1TB hard drive, that's one terabyte or 1000 gigs for $109.99 on sale!?! If your OS, apps and movie collection all on that thing gets lost because the OS crashes badly or you have to back up that big.......... sometimes even partitioning won't save you.

Now the question comes up, do penguins shed? Just like the guy with the bag on his head, you rip off the bag to find another bag. Oh, the other question, how do you like this new Ubuntu 10.04? It works fine, perhaps better, but the art work doesn't have the zest of the previous versions. I think we sometimes strain to be fresh and different. In the end a group of folks are trying to please the masses, which means the best part of Linux is that you can still change it to suit yourself.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

job hunting geeks and HR filters

Ever wonder why they call it "state of the art" and not "state of the science"? 

While you're pondering, my realization is that I have been a computer user for a good number of years, and through that time I have become mildly obsessed. I didn't learn machine code, or Basic or scripting or wire wrapping circuit boards by hand. I have known ones who could boast in those skills. I'm just a button pusher fascinated by what happens when all the software and hardware are in place and you click the button, wow!

If you put this here and that there, does that work? What if you tried this or used that in a different context? My favorite is update older concepts, repackage them, use them in the present context. Why, because there are sweet-spots where everything seems to fit and work just right. A lot of times products off the shelf miss that sweet-spot. There are all kinds of different users so the sweet-spots are different. We all settle for what's close enough. Sometimes we are psyched into stuff because the advertising has brainwashed us. We complain because it ain't "sweet."

You find that level of computing you can understand, then the science becomes art. I had a friend, M. Booker. He had a dream job, at least to me. He worked for DEC Equipment in the heyday of the mainframe. He put them together and made them work. That was a job. Man, I envied him and marveled at his stories. M. Booker is a tad younger than I yet he was into computing way before me. Some get that chance to grow up with computers, that's why they are gurus and geeks. It's not weird, it's the same for auto enthusiast we call grease-monkeys, gear-heads and lead-foots.

My world is so strange, the people around me are so into stuff. They try to pull you their way or push you another.  Where you are at does not appear viable to them. I am talking as an unemployed person taking jobs as they come and advice. There are sweet-spots with jobs too. Most often there is sacrifice because the focus of the job and the energies spent are not always your ideal. But you do what you need to do to support yourself and family, even putting aside the sweet-spot. You flex and adapt and apply yourself at work, then at home you tinker, dabble and dream.

Going through school, getting a job according to that training, having a career, that is science. When life doesn't flow this straight or this smoothly it becomes an art. I do not know all I am capable of, I just know I have a habit of applying myself. I do not know everything up front and total recall or regurgitation of industry standards is not proof of ability. Experience is time spent in a focus. When companies insist on experience, they are not interested in your capacity to learn or your ability to apply yourself. They're not interested in are you familiar enough, they ask do you know it? Yes or No? Do you know the science?

They insist on science, but it is really an art? Especially with computers, every area is so broad. You have to go against what you feel is the realized truth to sell yourself, "Yes, I know it." Then they demand proof and spit out hypothetical situations to which you are to supply real typical solutions. "We want the science." I am an artist, won't really know till my hands are on it. When I am seeing the real problem and I am engaged in the process, then all my resources and energies and knowledge converge, I am blank and stumbling when you ask me now. My job is to get a job, not work the job! It's a different focus."

Some HR folks set the Rubic's cube in front of you and say fix it. They expect you to have autistic focus, as if they are not there, instantly grabbing the cube without emotion. Then expect a furry of twisting and flipping without bending the elbow. Ok Mr. Johnson, you can almost do it but you took longer than the industry standard. Can you explain?  Yes, Mr. HR, most of my experience of late is in trying to get a job, not actually working a job. Job seeking erodes and diminishes my technical skills by diverting my energies to skills I don't need when I have the job. Over time I wonder what's wrong with my job seeking skills and dump more time into that rather than keeping my job skills sharp. Then, every job I apply for in IT is asking for something a little different and they want experience. I can't know it all and you don't offer on the job training these days.

Meanwhile, back at the Linuxville guide office, lab and center for job search and part-time decompression chamber, life with Linux goes on.
Often I am downloading and running Linux live-CDs to see how well they run on my assortment of equipment. I fuss with ideas I learned in school or read somewhere or dreamed of. And I fix stuff of friends, most of whom only know Microsoft and never heard of Linux. They ask for Microsoft advice and wonder what kind of geek are you if you aren't a Microsoft expert? I'm a stranger in a foreign land, yes, but also being a desktop Linux enthusiast I am not too cool with the Linux server crowd. Some think the desktop is a dumbing down, I say I use a cup instead of a bucket, still I drink, same Linux, smaller portion.


Monday, April 26, 2010

coming to terms at last

My second machine has been acting strange ever since the hard drive bellied up. The new drive, a Maxtor 10 gig, is fussy, but then so are the two CD Rom drives that have to cipher disks. Older PCs are much like older cars, reliable when they run, but wear and tear show at odd times.

Xubuntu didn't do so good. So I whipped out my copy of #!Crunchbang. It sliced through my hardware like a clean knife and is a fast install as I ever seen. Crunchbang is Ubuntu based but has Openbox window manager. It is lean and mean with a stark black screen and white letters. You have to tweak it to make the colors come out but you don't want to spoil it. As my second machine I don't need it to do heavy lifting so I'm using it for doc storage and to play back video tutorials.

Oh yeah, Conky is on deck with this distro with it's on screen system monitor and a listing of keyboard shortcuts to make learning them a breeze. All it need now is Synergy to share keyboard and mouse.
I sense a GNU-vana moment approaching. It's an endless cycle upgrade, then learn new stuff, then make it better again, then fix when it brakes, then............If I had new stuff I would be bored, Linux just works, gives me nothing to do, so I tinker.

Now that was strange!

Ok, I gave it a fair shot and I like it but........
Wonderful thing about having two computers, you get to compare operating systems side by side. If you are immediately drawn to one or the other, you find out.

On the right, the home boy, Ubuntu Linux 9.10, sporting the preview version of the Gnome Shell. On the left various challengers including XP (he gets few calls these days).

Just installed a second drive on this second PC so fresh installs are the way to go. Xubuntu is first, I installed it and the little window size buttons and header bars did not appear or work. Gee, it worked before on this machine. The live-CD runs OK and I am moving windows around, but compared to the Gnome Shell it is extra work to get to stuff. Then another live-CD, Elive 2.0. This OS is a drooler, it is so good looking. Elive has compositing charm but no compositing. This means you can still run it on a low resource machine and get good performance. But wait, darn, I have a warning window that says ATI video cards are known to cause problems with certain drivers and may crash the system. It works but missing icons and quirky actions, drat that ATI. We'll have to try another video card and see how it goes. Elive 2.0 is still racing after the Mac type desktop but has the Linux toys, compared to Gnome Shell?

The Gnome Shell just sits there working with almost no effort (fewer mouse clicks). I don't have to set up shortcut icons and application launchers. I think the work flow is a little smoother. The big shock is accepting how it's setup, you know how Linux users are fiercely resistant to being told what to do and how to do it. The good thing is that so many other desktops exist. I hope if the Gnome Shell becomes the standard, that the windowing desktop folks are use to is not thrown away. Then you can put regular or decaf in the session selector when you log in.

What's strange is I like the Gnome Shell over the what we all are used to in windowed desktops. It reminds me of Konqueror, the file manager/browser/viewer that could do so much and was under appreciated, basically the only thing I liked about KDE. And also a little bit of Matisse desktop, which was mostly in Mandriva Linux. To me, this is what a PC is all about the file manager. Having access to my files is the most important thing, then the program menus. So how to get there has to be short with fewer distractions. I didn't like compositing because you had to "find" a working setup yourself.

Linux is wonderful with all the choice, but the selfish arrogance of some vocal users hampers wider acceptance. A better solution would be configuration recipes posted that other users could immediately appropriate. This way the folks with simple needs can better find their way and the boasters can still show off with gusto. Science is about repeatable results, not just being the first and the most extreme. Community is about forging the way for others also, else wise you are adrift on your own iceberg (global warming anyone?). 

There is the glitz of all kinds or screen manipulation, multi-touch, immersion 3D........... then there is making present technology and user habits more efficient by changing the beginning premise. You can do this in Linux. KDE almost did this and you have to like the way they made it customizable. But KDE is too fidgety. Everytime the cursor passes over something there is possibility for unwanted change. Gnome Shell is more static feels more stable. When I click, I know what to expect. I found the same thing when comparing KDE's BasKet Note Pads to KeepNote. They both allow text and pictures, but BasKet Note Pads requires care because things move and float. So a program can run stable, but is it stable in the user's hands. If the program feels sure in the user's hand, they have confidence to use it more often.

Gnome Shell is cool but make it a standard "option".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Gee, that was fun, lets do that again!

Here am I doing my blog thang, 
Nothing new here, but let me zoom out some:
Lookie there! What is that? It's called the Gnome-shell and it is as snazzy as snazzy can be. It's going to be in the newest coming Ubuntu with the Gnome desktop and it's a turn-around from the regular windowed desktop we love and loath. It's handy for me because all the windows we are used too are working me to death. While I liked the icon bar and the kind of Mac OS look this is more better, more functional for me. And you thought that flashy new Win7 was something, puh!

I won't spoil the fun for you, these are all the pics you'll get from me. You'll have to search for the previews your self. But if you can't wait, like me, I found it in the repositories via Synaptic. Now the standard warnings apply, read the home page and learn what you can do with it, how to start and stop it and take it for a spin.

Why am I impressed? Because the last two years we've been caught up in an eye-candy flurry called compositing. Gee, how much power does it take to do that? Lots of memory and a graphics card with muscles and oh wait I see the Enlightenment desktop beautifully doing fancy desktop effects and it's fast and efficient, without compositing. Too much of anything is mind numbing. The Gnome-shell gives me a cool way to approach my files without layers of configs and shortcuts. I like the way it guides you to use all those workspaces Linux is famous for. Even I got that MS Windows habit of putting stacks of open windows on one desktop. Man, I feel like my hands were untied.

So, a tip of the ole penguin flipper to you Gnome-shell developers, you did good.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It was an inside job.

Well my LCD monitor de-rezzed for the last time, I whispered to myself', "I need to take it apart to see what's wrong". There was a loud out cry, "No disassembly!?!, Johnny 5 is alive!!!"

A technician gets no respect in his own lab. I called the maker (HP), they grilled me according to their script. I kept telling them I am a certified technician, but they had to make sure I was grilled on both sides. Finally I got agreement that my LCD monitor was faulty. Then I proceeded to ask about the two circuit boards on the inside. The power board seemed OK but I wasn't getting a picture so I suspected the video board. Oh man, I could hear them thinking, "red alert, red alert, the user opened the case!" I asked the question simply, "Is it possible to purchase a new video control board for my LCD monitor?" It is a yes or no question, right? They insisted I just buy a new monitor. Dudes, that's very not green of you. Two or three emails later I got the "no way" response.

Come on, I am not talking about fixing a broken board, just swapping an old board with a working replacement. I have faced this in other areas like oven and washing machine repairs. There are certain consumer level repairs and then stuff so technologically complex and life threatening a credentialed specialist is required just to get the parts. The install is simple but you must understand the whole system so that if something goes wrong you know what to do. Gad, I'm so strained I need to degauss myself.

Taking the monitor apart I find the numbers and search the net. You know, it's cheaper to just find the same but used LCD monitor on ebay than find parts to fix the one I got. God forbid I learn something to keep what I own working. So I recycle the old monitor and they either trash it or test and reuse and swap out the parts. Gee, I can do that!
A techie gets no respect in his own lab!

Speaking of labs, I cleaned out my bookshelf, looks barren now. I got rid of old Win95, NT, Autocad 11, Office 95 books and others. The old Linux stuff I kept, lots of it still applies even though todays Linux is ten times better. I think that is a truism that MS totally changes to improve. Linux gets better but is essentially the same. It's the modular design of course. I can even get an up-to-date Linux with an older GUI if I wanted to retro. Right from the beginning Linux info was posted on the net. And that is where you will find it today. So the drive for eReaders for digital books and documents will well serve the Linux community. And that's a wrap for today, eWord up!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The candy shop and deep dabble

Man, I've been to the candy shop. It's called "DC Parts". It is wonderful though not as when I first went there years ago. Oh yeah, it's a computer parts store. It was like the old 5 and 10 with every nut and screw and clip and cable you ever saw. It is still a great place but today their inventory is trimmed a little. They got used PCs and laptops. I went today and got a 40 gig hard drive, some powered speakers, a USB cable and an audio cable. I had to leave quick, my wallet was empty and my eyes getting bigger. Man, that was a blast.

Well, the hard drive was a bust, so I went back a few times and three drives later got one that my bios could see. With used equipment, milage may vary. Good thing they exchanged it for nothing. Today I am so pleased, it works and I installed Xubuntu 9.10 on it. The PC has a second drive with XP on it.

 I guess I can call my computer desks a lab. I am always trying to move things into a more workable arrangement. My LCD monitor bombed out. The lower half had a yellow haze, the screen image was wavy like water, then the picture would go black after a few minutes, but I still had power. I set it aside, then opened it thinking the capacitors had burnt. I took the whole thing apart, put it back together. World of wonders, it works OK now. I really didn't do anything but it now works! How long? I think when I am not sitting in front of it I might turn it off, just to be cautious.

So this all works out fine. My main PC has the big CRT which is fine as the higher resolution is great for graphics. My second PC has the LCD display which is very clear. And I now have powered speakers for both PCs. One little thing I did, since my second PC has no front USB ports, I bought an extension cable. It is very awkward to reach under the desk and around the back of the PC to access a USB port. The extension cable puts the port on my desktop.

I am thinking of re-installing Synergy so that I only need one keyboard and mouse to use both PCs. Two keyboards and two mice on one limited desk surface is near impossible. I've typed stuff on the wrong keyboard into the wrong PC, funny but not fun.

Perhaps I need a server, that way I can store stuff in one location and not worry on which PC it's hiding on. You see this is what's so great about Linux and Open Source. You can move things around, change stuff and not fuss with activations and authentications and putting your paid for copy on more than one machine reprisals.

I am not a guru and not a noobe, yet through deep dabbling I have achieved Gnu-vana.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

eh, that's a flower!?!

I have been working away trying to comprehend the splender of Blender 3D.

First let me say that surveying the landscape of Linuxville is a great thing, but........ you usually wind up with one of two things. The Linux Bazaar, hey look at this , look at that, try this, do that. OR deep in the darkest part of the network jungle, there lurks a circle of very hot servers cooking this Linux code and that code. Well, since I am a Linux user and a "personal" system admin instead of a corporate one, I want to show you what I brought home from the venerable Linux Bazaar. Why, because the applications are the whole mystery of Linux on the desktop. Folks rave about the Linux OS, you get the picture you can't do anything but server work. Let me tell you, servers don't need a GUI, or pretty wallpaper and you the average desktop user doooo! Even hardened text terminal gurus will have a desktop PC near by to have and behold a graphic file once in a while.

Also your personal activities are as valid to you as the data being managed in a corporate setting. That's what makes Linux so wonderful and it's called scalability. That's both to fit the range of hardware and also the range of user purpose.

My thing is digital art, not for some commercial venture (at least not yet) but for personal learning, personal adventure and experimenting. I will add that with Linux and Free Open Source Software (FOSS) you can not only start something with low or no cost, you can alter the code (if you have the skills) with no reprisals or legal harassment.

I started Blender 3D after years of hearing how hard it was to learn. What button do I push first? The secret is the bread crumbs left by ones who been there. Get the tutorial videos, play them till they make sense, the logic is subliminal, not apparent right off. While using it, it becomes clearer.

Here's what I am working on:
So far I learned to rearrange the windows, some basic keyboard shortcuts, what different commands and windows do. I am learning the feel of manipulating the cursor and scene, making and placing objects. What is that? That is what I call the Sunflower Dome Haus. Remember the cargo container home thing? Imagine 10 small cargo containers in circle the wagon style, then cover the middle with a dome. The space inside would be wonderful. And this is my other point, you can play with some ideas better if you can illustrate them. In 3D this is mind boggling and exciting. You may not build it in your backyard but on your PC, hummmmmm!

How does this compare with CAD drawing? 3D modeling may or may not be as precise as CAD but is definitely more efficient in working with concepts. Once you "get the picture" the details are easy. I tried Google's SketchUp, it is cool but no Linux version, that is sick. Ah, the road less traveled.

The other thing is weird. Once you start really using a Linux application, it seems you are all by yourself, everybody else is using some MS platform app. You need to peruse the Linuxville neighborhood and find some companions in the same pasture. Yes Martha there are warm weather penguins. They are the Birds in Black. They wear shades and make a PC look good!

Friday, April 09, 2010

careful wid that nose

Now that I stuck my nose in the flower and got stung, I have to explain it to everyone who ask the obvious. They always ask how but not why, except for smart-alicks. Don't use the medical jargan, say "man what a rush!"

You see the flower in this case is Blender 3D and the bee is its user interface. It is repeated that the Blender interface is difficult and hard and has a steep learning curb (a pain, it stings). But once you nose around you will get zapped, marked for life as it were, a Blenderhead.

To the casual observer the interface resembles a Borg spaceship, this is why the reports are out there. Don't stick your nose in there! Thankfully there are video tutorials that take the mystery out of Blender, oh! you will get stung! But if you don't get the basics down your nose will look like a red-skin potato. So my advice to would be Blenderheads, check out and click on the Blender 3D Survival Guide 1 thru 9. Paolo Cicone explains Blender via a simple animation project, you will get stung. But instead of a mass of scar tissue, you will have a red dot and that stupid smile of accomplishment.

Ok, the Batman movie where he had to climb the obscene terrain to get the blue flower, only to have it made into a disillusion powder. Or, the Snuggle bear, dancing through fields of fragrance. Believe it or not, you can do both in Blender, but you got to start somewhere.

Any good graphics application requires a right of passage, Blender is no different. You may be a hard edge know it all, able to learn it without any help. Why waste the time and energy figuring when that part has been pre-digested for you. Get the vids, learn the stuff, save your grunts for the really hard stuff, content.

Blender 3D comes in 4 flavors, Linux, Mac, BSD, and Microsoft, because it is Open Source. There is abundant documentations, tutorials, videos, artwork and finished products as in movie effects, cartoons and stills. You can make models, import models and...........

Also notice that on the Creative Cow site the other application vids that are there. But I advise Blend first unless you got stuck in those other fields.

So, this is the Linuxville guide dude, buzzing off to render in the splender of Blender. And don't forget to visit
 for tips, help, chat, boasting and bragging and critique.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

smelling the flowers risks a bee stung nose

I walk past them every day, the flowers.
every color calls to me, every form.
I take pictures and sketch them, I invent new ones,
the ideas come so fast and I can see them printed on everything.
Then I get mad, I can't do them justice, I can't capture what I see.

I don't really do flowers but in order to do them I must bend over and stick my nose into one flower.

It's my personal dilemma, having art in me but not spending the time on the means of expression. I have surveyed many art softwares and fumbled with my digital pen and pad. It is now time to commit to the art process.

You have to laugh, it is sort of like the movie Karate Kid, Mr. Miagi gets the kid to clean the house, the car and the the boy wants to kick butt. You have to train your body in a kind of language. You have to let the media train you before you can bend, stretch and alter the media. How the brush is loaded with paint, how it applied with your movements, how it feels and looks. It is the same with digital art. You learn the interface, the tools, the effects, all in an interactive "play".

The hardest thing for me is accepting that the process is slower than how I think. I just conceive the idea, record it in my sketchbook and I am done. I need to take the time to develop the idea via the process. You get a busy life, a sketchbook becomes a convenient way to keep the creative juices flowing between circumstances. It also become a pit. For an artist's main expression to be his sketchbook is not productive at all. It is not the number of ideas to fill up a sketchbook, but the completeness of each idea.

Like kids you gave birth to, now you got to raise them up. You get a great idea, you need to give it time to develop and mature with you.
To me I've always had the art viewers mind. There is a kind of excitement to roam a museum or gallery and oogle till my eyes are bloodshot. The actual work an artist does is really work the viewer doesn't appreciate. Time spent till the tools and techniques are transparent and fluid and the experimenting and risking and the great accidents and the flubs, these are mostly hidden. Well, what about performance art? Even there, a big part of the process you don't see is the prep. An artist does the process.

You got a big red nose because you stopped, bent over and stuck your nose in the flower and got stung. You smelled the aroma, got a little dust on your cheek. You looked the bee right in the eye as he buzzed madly, "don't poke your nose into my business!" You yell, then laugh, embarrassed but with a satisfying grin.The neighbors snicker, " that'll learn ya", I wouldn't have done that!", "serves ya right!".

To be an artist is to stop and actually smell the flowers everybody talks about. To be an artist is not without risk, so hold your big red nose in high esteem and open display.

Friday, April 02, 2010

making change @will

One of the things I appreciate about Linux and especially Ubuntu is the @will command. You won't find it on your keyboard, it is a mental thing. Because so many resources are either built-in or available online and or in the software repositories, you can try out stuff @will.

Let's say you want to use the terminal to start applications because you are a dyed in the wool keyboard jockey. You could pop an icon with a mouse click, search and deploy through the main menu or install "Guake Terminal". What the heck is Guake Terminal?? World of wonders man, where have you been? No, I just discovered it myself. This Guake Terminal sits invisible in the background and comes forward with one keystroke (F12). No touchy the mouse for this! Type your command, fire away and hit F12 again to send it back into it's invisibility cloak. An icon appears in the panel to let you know it's there waiting and there are tweak preferences, if you must.

Like I said the @will thing is cool. When I use Synaptic to install stuff and if not satisfied, I can gently removed them leaving behind config file residue or remove all traces. I have scrunched my changing down to here and there. A change of scenery is fine tuned with the help of Desktop Drapes. This app lets you change wallpaper from a directory by clicking on the tray icon or at a timed interval. Change is good, but not too much change. You can over do desktop dynamics to where your senses are overloaded. Excitement and adventure, a Jedi does not seek! Just think if Skywalker were sliding down the chute at Bespin and said "man I got ta do that again!"

Heads up display, I want a heads up display!! If you ever messed with Conky, you'd want one too. In the Crunchbang Linux distro, Conky is standard. Conky is a system monitor with the ability to list a text file and other stuff. In Crunchbang it had the system info on top and on the bottom a list of keyboard shortcuts. If you have a short memory like me you'd see how wonderful this is not to have a sheet of paper. It is on the screen as I train myself. And like all heads up display you can make the background transparent so as not to obscure the desktop. I am wanting two things. To be able to put Conky on a side panel that auto hides or disappears with a key stroke like Guake does. Then a resource file display thing so that when I am using Blender I get the Blender shortcut list and when in Gimp, I get the Gimp shortcut list. Of course if the Gnome panel could display a text file then Conky would be an optional thing.