Thursday, October 28, 2010

living Linux with fewer gotchas

Are there any downsides to living with Linux? Depends! If you are fortune enough to have Linux pre-installed it is no different than Mac or MS, point n click. But like any new country you visit you must do a little homework or your tourist status gets changed to ugly problem child with issues, attitudes, unreasonable preferences and demands, can we deport him now!?!

Homework means you read a little to get what Linux and Open Source is about. The newly acquired freedoms and liberties (copy-left or GPL) are often misinterpreted and effaced by the folks use to the other PC platform legalities (copy-right and user license agreements). Find net info or books about the applications and browse. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Now if you need help beware of support sources, Linux enthusiast are varied. Some gurus will tell you to read the manual in colorful terms. They are not representative of us all. So if you want something fixed, who you ask flavors the answer you get. Realize you are a noob, nubi, newbie, padawan learner and you are actually a new class of Linux person, the desktop user. Most experienced Linux users are more likely to be System Administrators, Network Administrators, Software Engineers or high end engineers of other sorts. Finding one with "desktop user friendliness" is a blessing. While Linux has had a desktop for many years, the support of personal computers running Linux is still a rough area.

My example is this: I just switched my ancient laptop from Ubuntu to Xubuntu. They are the same but Xubuntu is leaner, faster and a less user friendly setup. Some of the setup tools are not in Xubuntu. I had to figure out how to get sound to work. The drivers were there but the app to interogate and test the system was not there. I hit the net, searched around. I learned that applications that did the job were not called what they should be called and the recipe (repeatable results) to put it together not in one place. The applications that run in the background are called a server. So I figured you need sound chip drivers, a sound server and a controlling front-end (mixer). I didn't have to use the commandline to type in commands I didn't understand. Mostly it was checking boxes and testing if I got sound, yet. I got sound!!!! The full-bodied Ubuntu has setup and testing tools but is a little rich for my acient laptop. Xubuntu is just right, takes a little work, but works fine now.

My point is this, system admin and server folks might be dap with connecting networks but desktops are a speciality by itself. So, each desktop user should have skills to manage their own desktop or take it to a Linux desktop support person. Linux desktop support needs to be created, with mouseside manners, user empathy and application know-how. Right now the internet is very good support but you must do your homework. If there is a local Linux user group near you, you have resources, use them!

This is why the Linuxville guide chateau is in the hood. The Linux server side is well cared for, the Linux desktop side needs more support. Don't take my word for it, check out Fullcircle Magazine for Ubuntu users.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Living the Linux life.

PC users are of several kinds, the casual user, the business user and the enthusiast.
I guess I fall under the enthusiast, because my love for computers extends beyond what they can be used for. I became a guide by virtue of hands-on experience but I am not an expert via training or ego. I make no claims of guru status though my wife will exclaim to friends a certain nerdiness and geektatude.  I am compared to a hot rodder knowing enough to detail a car but not to make the show circuit and collect trophies.

I read all about computer operating systems in Byte magazine before I even had a computer. DOS and DOS front-ends were replaced by MS Windows 3.0 thru to XP. I stumbled upon Linux in a library book. LST Linux was a German distribution I almost got to work on my 286 DOS machine. I still am not a programmer, if I load it on, push the enter key and it doesn't work I'm done. I tried Slackware, at that time formatting separate partitions for each system folder was my understanding. Today I make one partition for the system and one for a memory swap area. I think one for the home or user files should be done so that upgrading is less a pain. The part many don't get is that they don't have to install it to use it. Just pop in a live-CD Linux, reboot, use it, save to flash drive, shutdown, remove CD and done, without changing your PC. Do your homework if you plan to install and/or get knowledgeable help.

Once you have a working system you don't usually go around comparing your system to others. But, because you do get to use other systems, you notice what annoys you and what sparks your praise. The system you use the most is the standard and defending that is normal. Believe me, no one is objective, bias is rampant and spin is everywhere. It's cool but, nice but, ugly but, expensive but, and cheap but. Butts are standard on users and concerning their PCs.

Linux was like a mystery to be solved. How did Linux run on equipment meant to run Microsoft? I had to pay for every Microsoft software and so-called free-ware for it was awful. Here is Linux, not great but OK, with open source free and better than any free-ware for Microsoft. The improvements over the years were steady and the cost did not go up, what is this? How can this go on and people not regard? I think because I was willing to go a little deeper into PC stuff, I got hooked. Linux lets me play with my collection of PC hardware and get stuff done too. Hot rods for show are cool but to be able to drive it like any other cars is what makes it cooler yet.

My kids visit, I don't dual boot for their sake. They have few questions or no questions about Linux. They use what's on my machines, it's not difficult or different. To me the Linux desktop is simplicity and works well. Sophistication and polish often gets in the way of efficient working. I'd rather have simplicity and polish. Linux does this, especially the Gnome and XFCE desktops, though some would say this of KDE desktop, I don't feel that way. What ever is your fav, I am sure the simplicity and polish factors are high for you.    

Friday, October 22, 2010

upping the downside of dreaming

Dreaming is a very useful aspect of life. Dreaming lifts you out of the mill of practical stuffs to look ahead. Smart folks will use that vision as incentive and motivation and devise a plan toward a goal or as energy to move forward toward a hoped for end.

The downside is when all you can do is dream because the practical means and or the knowledge to do it is obscured. In my case I could have been an engineer or architect had not high school been totally screwed up. I still have those dreams but I had to realize them in a different way. Life moves on rapidly and I am no longer a young man. Dreams have a molecular structure that can be re-arranged to be realized through the means at hand.

Now, let's get down to the crux. The advertisements display the glitz and the flash of a wonderful operating system called Microsoft. The latest Windows 7 can do things the previous version couldn't. The cost for a new PC and this new Win 7 is OK if you can afford it. But is stands to reason you can not get all what's advertised unless you spend the top dollar. You gotta love how technology promotes you must buy new.

Say it with me, "only my XP operating system is obsolete, my hardware is fine. My PC is older but mechanically, it still works fine." 

Here's the situation, you can not buy a new PC, the support for Win XP has joined the retired ranks of Win95 and Win98. The PC you have is under powered because memory upgrades were and still are expensive. My laptop only has 512MB of memory, ooh I am doomed to use old software and old applications. Even the dust bunnies in my old PC has gray hair, err fuzz.

I am writing this blog on an antique Gateway 4026gz laptop. It has 512MB of board memory and 1ghz+ Celeron CPU. It has a wireless card, 20gig hard drive, PC card slots, USB ports, a heat problem and one missing key-cap. For the heat problem I took a small Masonite panel and glued three wedges on it so that when I set my laptop on it the fans which vent through the bottom are unobstructed. It used to heat up and cut off in 10 minutes, now it runs all day long, no problem.

And I use near the latest version of Ubuntu Linux. Just as a reminder, Linux is free in cost and in user rights (what you acquire is yours!). Then to top it off, the Open Source community has supplied every imaginable application, 99% of them also free. Now my PC use is not strained, I am not a gamer or a multi-media maverick, or a social net junkie. I blog, write emails, view videos, do digital artwork, etc. Linux does all this and I have the latest versions of all I use. I can't and don't do it all, who can?

My dreaming down side of not being able to acquire the latest and greatest PCs with all the so-called professional applications, has been met with Linux and Open Source software. My dream has been fulfilled at quite a high level, with the stuff I already have. If and when I do get "mo-betta" hardware, I will put Linux on it because I am into Linux.

Now when you come into Linuxville it takes a while to get over the surprises. The oohs and aahs are normal, but the big event is when you finally relax into a blissful Linux wonder. The collective sigh is felt throughout Linuxville.

Monday, October 18, 2010, chirp, psssssst! What's an iCar?

America, land of the mono-cultured everything is going back to the roots that the Asian folks never left. Business wise we have individual companies that have tightly focused on narrow product lines, where as the Asians have industrial conglomerates. So under one brand-name you will find electronics, appliances and autos. Here in the American mono style we merge and absorb then consolidate and downsize for efficiency, er a profit. The Asians gather companies under an umbrella brand-name and each industry concentrates on it own product with the caveat of sharing production ideas, technology cross-overs and innovations, bypassing the legal constraints and copyright and patent restrictions of individual companies. It's just an impression folks, but mono has plagued America from the industrial revolution till today.

Look at farming. Because farming is what it is we have fast food eateries, pre-processed foods and canned goods out the kazoo, all laced with sugars, starches, salts and dyes, on top of pesticides, fertilizers and preservatives. Now ask yourselves why the medical "industry" is an industry.  We save time and shorten our lives at the same time. It is also why you need a big honking grid sucking refrigerator to store and preserve. Thinking out loud we should have one refrigeration unit in a house that will chill the house and the food too.

Back to the food, if food was grown local, consumed local, though you would go to market more often, you would need less storage. Oh, did I just turn big city living into a small town life. We have hurried lives and we rest in front of the TV. Going to the market every other day is........oh wait, there is so and so, haven't seen him since he sold his big screen TV. He looks good, healthy, rested. Oh and by the way, cooking is not a lost art, stop watching it on TV and cook your own grub. Where's the book on low powered cooking? and does microwave cooking really alter the molecular structure of foods so that they are less healthy?

Somebody should write an illustrated book about low powered lighting, how to do it with style, get enough of it and how to energize it with local solar and wind (vertical wind turbines are less intrusive), with special emphasis on city dwelling. You can do it in RVs and space stations but not in a typical city house. I would call this a hybrid power thing. Take lights off the grid and use that power to fuel your big honking refrigerator, air conditioner, washer and dryer and for backup. Gee!, you don't need to cover the whole roof with solar after all. This kicks starts a domestic industry by getting some green product on every house and sold by Lowes and Home Depot etc. The deep cycle battery business will be off the hook and people will be off the grid (at least for lighting).

Every laptop I have worked on had a memory card reader slot and a PC card slot. Instead of loading the operating system onto the hard drive, it can be burnt onto a memory card or solid state device for the PC card slot. The PC would be generic until the operating system card is plugged in. The applications and user files would be in separate partitions on the hard drive. Or you put two card slots in a laptop, and a bios app lets you single/dual boot or run one OS as a virtual machine within the other OS.

Oh wait, there is a disturbance in the force, you are calling me nuts. Just like Sith lords, there's one or two.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

the crystal baldhead guy speaks

Technology converges always. It started with a four function calculator and will end with a universal controller someone will retro into a four function calculator case.

I think it is crazy no matter which device you use, cell phone, PDA, tablet, netbook, notebook, desktop, TV, it will all look and work the same and display the same media, the same, chirp, pssssst! gone fuzzy again. Difficult to see the future is (Yoda!). What's an iCar?

If you want a personal computer ditch the ethernet cable and pull the wireless card. There will be the same warning label you find on your mattress on your PC, warning you not to disconnect from the "net". You will get a cellphone call, Mr. Johnson we noticed you are no longer connected to the net, is this intentional or is there a personal emergency, do you need tech assistance, we can send someone to re-connect you. And yes there is a charge for both disconnect and reconnect processing.

Mr. Johnson your new pacemaker has built-in defibrillation. We can monitor your stats and give you a jump when needed. OnStar is always here for you, please keep your account current.

Criminals have all their electronics removed. The ankle bracelets are no longer needed because lawful people are connected and tracked. Lawbreakers have to use word of mouth and barter. We sentence you to 30 days in the natural state.

Buses are obsolete, someone found a way to link Segways together for family outings and carpooling. College kids form largest linked Segway ring, ride in a circle for 10 days non-stop. Amish invent peddle powered Segway gets hit by folks driving regular Segways. The hottest new venue in sports, the Segway races at Bonniville Salt Flats. Featuring the "Loaded Pedestrian" 100 mph tire burning turbo powered Segway.

The typewriter keyboard refuses to go away in spite of the new voice input software. The OS is burned into a solid state device, plugged into any PC and just works. A laptop is just a keyboard and large screen for your PDA device. A Steampunk cult brings back the 8 track and the word "icon" is replaced by "avatar". And remember here in Linuxville, tomorrow is only a day away!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Boom out the box, not flash-boom

Boom means you get basic functions for basic hardware. It's the middle of the road, high and dry and useful. You usually get internet access if you have a service or DSL like I do. You get applications like a web browser, music player, picture viewer, document writer or the Open Office suite and the GIMP (picture editor). So you have to see what's included. Of course if you install it, you have access to a very large online catalog of applications, so you can add and remove to your hearts content.

Flash-boom depends on the hardware you got. You must have enough system memory or the flash will slow down the boom. I have 512MB in my laptop. I can flash ok but the boom suffers a lot. 1 or 2 gig of system memory allows lots of flash and lots of boom. The next thing is the video chips. Usually ATX desktops don't have a problem as you can swap in a new video card at will. Laptops have to deal with what they have. In any case if there are enhanced video drivers for your chip set, you are prompted to install them. The better drivers allow the flash to be big.

The next part of the flash is selecting the configuration to make the pyrotechnics work. In Linux this is called compositing. Compositing has come a long way. You can get windows that wobble when you move then, windows on a spinning cube, all kinds of fade effects, and combinations of eyecandy that will rot your retinas. I have turned them off on my laptop so it remains snappy. On my desktop I kept just the drop shadows for that 3D look.

Other add-on features are icon bars that rival Apple's Mac and side panels that mimic dashboards. Some features are only available on certain Linux desktops. The Gnome desktop is one way and KDE is another and XFCE (on my laptop) is another. They are mostly the same but have different user strategies, different styles, different looks and different features. Same but different.

It all sounds hard to do but that's because most don't know this stuff until they've messed with it a little while. So find a Linux user group, Linux savvy PC shop, or something already! There are lots of advice givers on the net, forums, videos and such and me. I'm no expert, just a humble guide with some experience. My forte is the desktop not servers. I think the Linux desktop needs more support so that users have help on their own level. I hope you find Linux of any flavor a restful retreat and a reprieve from the other setups.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Hey, where'd he go??

It's October and I haven't posted in over a month. Been doing some non-computer stuff, interrogating the Holy Bible and looking into Black history. I plan to keep the focus on Linux and on digital art, but the background world view has changed a lot in the past few weeks.

During all this time I have had neither glitch, hiccup, crash, or shut-down. I did build a platform with small wooden wedges to lift the back edge of my laptop off the table. Now I can run it all day without overheating and I run it each and every day.

On October 10th a new Ubuntu, version 10.10 will be out. You can't get it in stores, but if you go to the web site it will be there for download or you can buy a CD, I think for the cost of shipping. I usually just download it. There are versions for server, desktop/laptop and netbook, 32 bit, 64 bit, etc.

There are several ways to use Linux. The live-CD is very cool as it runs directly off the CD without installing. When you remove the live-CD your computer is unchanged. What ever applications are on the CD can be used by you and you can save your work to a jump drive. You can install while running the live-CD or not. You choose to make a hard drive partition or use the whole hard drive. If you want to run both MS Windows and Linux, a program called Grub gives you a menu to choose at boot.

If you have MS Windows running when you put in the Ubuntu Linux CD a program called Wabi will let you install Ubuntu in a MS Windows folder so that it runs sort of like a Windows application. I call this a pseudo virtual machine.

For me if you want both MS Windows and Linux on the same machine, dual booting is best. That way the two different operating systems are separate, not needing extra resources. Be sure you install MS Windows first to minimise booting problems. You can select the default OS in the Grub OS selector afterwards.

Another option is virtual machines. You can run Linux as a virtual machine on a MS Windows system and vice-versa. VirtualBox is my favorite application for this. There is a MS version and a Linux version. Virtual machines is about sharing resources, so running two OSs needs more memory and some hard disk space. 

The last option is called Wine. Wine is a MS Windows compatibility layer which runs in Linux. Wine lets you, within limits, run MS Windows software on a Linux system. I can't run Photoshop Professional, but my Photoshop Lite runs fine. Can't tell you if MS Office will run, I use Open Office. But a special configuration of Wine called Crossover Office seems to handle MS Office products. I don't have experience with this.

The most cool thing is that you can slide the Linux live-CD into any MS compatible system, reboot and try out Linux. I recommend Ubuntu. If you have it installed or install it yourself, you gain access to the online repository of free installable applications. Some versions of Linux have live-DVDs so that the large selection of installable software is on the DVD. With my DSL internet it takes 1 hour to download the CD and 3 hours for the DVD. Once you have it, you own it, you can install it on as many machines as you want. You can copy it and give it to friends.
Now I will warn you, Linux is not as flashy as some like. This is so that it appeals to a broader swath of users and works on a broader swath of hardware configurations. You can tweak it up or dumb it down, that is what makes it what it is. So that's boom out the box but not flash-boom. You can add flash later.