Monday, May 30, 2011

The exciting world of desktop Linux

Now that I got my wonderments out in the open I hope you noticed it as a diversion from the heavy construction in Linuxville. Yeah, Linuxvilles' got more orange barrels than anybody. Just when it was to where I might could have explained Linux big changes come to mess me up. Of course they had to let us know that change was imminent, but the funny part was the collective "Oh no you didn't!" Windows flew open and now the street is littered with stuffed penguins.

Ok kids, go out and get your stuffy toys, that panic was not cool. It is funny though that after all the request for change is really fulfilled, we just can't handle it.  Ok, let's try to handle it. First the play by play.

Ubuntu the poster boy for "linux for everyone", decided to field a new "default" desktop called Unity. At the same time Gnome is unwrapping Gnome 3. On the new Ubuntu 11.04, Unity runs on Gnome 2's basic libraries. So if you try to run Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 11.04 it crashes, bad. Unity is met with mixed reviews and Gnome 3 is previewed in Fedora and Open Suse live-cds. I think Gnome 3 is very cool. What a mess, no wonder the panic. Hey, put the real bird down and pick up the stuffed bird, thank you! Linuxville you will recover!

What did I do? First I will wait for the smoke to settle, that is clear desktop choices with no confusion. Then I switched my laptop to use Mint Linux, a Ubuntu based distro that's minty fresh (still has Gnome 2). At the suggestion from a user in the Linkedin Ubuntu group, I repartitioned my laptop hard drive to have an OS partition, a /Home partition and a swap partition. This is so that when I get distro fever and must switch, my /Home folder stays intact, unharmed and available for the new install. I only have to format the OS partition. And I am making full use of flash drives and live-CDs to test things. Many of you use virtual installs, I commend you.

So when the desktop choices are ............ well, I am waiting for Gnome 3. In any case I now have peace to wait. And Mint is the bomb, I'm glad I installed it. I also heard Pinguy Linux is also cool.

Arnold knows computers, ask him, to fix it.

It is a tragic story of my life, how much I enjoy computers but don't like fixing them. Let me explain fixing. I enjoy the mechanical side of fixing, hardware. I can tear down a laptop, replace parts, put it back together and it still works. There is a certain thrill factor.

So, where's the tragedy? People's PC's are fine, they have a software problem. Everybody I know has either a Mac or Microsoft PC, I mean everybody. Not wanting to have the problems I've personally encountered with Microsoft products any longer I switched over to Linux. For ten years I have had a new problem base dealing with Linux. Way less problems, yet because I mess with PC's I get asked about fixing their software problems. They, the askers, don't get it, it's a computer, it has Microsoft on it, right?

Ok, there are certain general principals I can apply to fix anything. But knowing how to remedy programming glitches and such requires that you have used the software in question and have a sense of how it works. It does not instill much confidence when I just can't tell them what to do and even less when I must play with it a little bit and if I have to read a manual, I don't know computers very well.

I have worked as a repair technician, fixing Microsoft XP machines, but as I got into Linux, my interest in Microsoft products sort of went away. I didn't think it was a problem till I went to the library to use a PC. Their upgraded patron computer lab had all Win7 machines. I wanted to print a page. I had to figure out MS Word in the office suite. This is why I say, if you don't use it you just don't know it.

I say, "I use Linux." They get that glazed look in their eyes like "I'm savvy, what's Linux?" or I'm trying to avoid helping them. I am used to this but still it is frustrating. Maybe it's me! I use Linux instead of Microsoft, Libre Office not MS Office suite, GIMP instead of Photoshop, the list goes on. When I tell them Open Source stuff has runs on Microsoft versions and they are free, there is a curious ending of this conversation. I'm trying to tear them away from the brand-name they base their PC knowledge and loyalty on. No, no, no!

I'm not a Microsoft user, you can't ask me for Microsoft solutions. I might could figure it out but my experience is with Linux solutions, Open Source solutions. I have to go with what I know.

Friday, May 27, 2011

more than soul, the ooh-gah boo-gah

Not having one single definable or identifiable heritage is mind numbing. For years I've joined the scramble to call it something. One thing is for sure, there is something there. I've been told I've got soul from "I'm Black and I'm Proud" to "He's got soul, he's got soul, ooh ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh baby!"  So go ahead play some music with a beat, the hands and feet jump in sync and the dance is on. We gots' the way with words, rap'in as it were natural and dress'in because styling is in the blood man! And sports............!

 Of course when the dust settled there were pictures of big hair and flared pants and loud colors, loud actions, exaggerated as if playing on a stage and making it plain to the back row. Having soul mainstreamed, everybody who is in the public eye has got to have soul. Soul is the one element of entertainment/sports that has transcended the bounds of cultural definition. Soul = a cultural charisma originating in Black peoples.

One problem I've noticed is that when all was said and done, concerning the outward display of soul for everyone's enjoyment by everyone who practices the genre called soul, is whether or not folks realize "soul" as a marketed trend product does have a downside. Like when you must do the Polka at a wedding and you are now out of sync. It's not that other cultures don't have soul, but the obvious difference can require a major adjustment. I am not nuts, ask any classical musician how difficult it is to play jazz. You can create a kind of hybrid to accommodate classical training and techniques, but on the fly improv and jazz rhythms is a way different world.

Soul is so pervasive, it is the root. Folks have gone from putting down the brown to getting down with brown to trying to be brown. From disgust and mistrust to admire and acquire. I am surprised there is not a soul pill and a book of how to practice the nuances of soul or how about a secret unpublished ancient document written in hieroglyphs about "soul" in the early dude?

I will conclude this soul train of thought by saying, yeah today we all got "soul" of some sort, but do you have the "ooh-gah boo-gah!?!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

artist in the mirror

In a couple of weeks the Lorain County International Festival will be upon us. The Lorain Arts Council will have an art show the theme is to show your heritage reflected in your art. It is so funny to think about how there are few pure-bred among us, as if there was ever such a thing. You will love and have kids with whom ever because you love them. Bloodlines are not a top priority, religious, political, tribal, ethnic advantage or crusty egos are crossed all the time. Still we like to identify with a root stock of culture. 

My own sources have been in question for eons. I know what other people have called me, some not too nice, but if I reflect enough I would call myself a Black American. Black because the possibility of origin is far too broad. For instance to say African, where in Africa? We have been known as Black peoples in the positive sense and the negative sense. So I stop looking for a more pleasant word. I stand firm in the use of Black in the positive sense. I would even put American before African as American is all I have known, throughout my life. And when I trace my ancestors back to the enslaved I instantly identify with a diverse mega-group of Black peoples, not a tribe or country. A couple of centuries pass and I have lost much of my African ID to a great degree. If you don't have the language/heritage, the fellowship of society (daily customs and rituals) or live on the land where these things take place, what becomes of you? You take on the flavor of the environment where you are at. I lived in a neighborhood of other Black peoples all in the same boat. Our struggle to deny or reconnect with what was/is known of our past is hit and miss. I think we should give up looking for a ultimate and comfortable legal term. Throughout the ages we have been Black peoples of various countries. I am a Black person in America. I can claim ancestral roots in Africa and it is not a shame for me to not know from where, after all I did not cause my forefathers to come here by force. So, as a person of African descent I am supposed to be disadvantaged because of my darkness or my roots are unknowable. Ha, I've been transplanted and cultivated in another place. If you look at history you will see we Black peoples have been all over the world before the enslaving time and after, it is not a new thing. We have not been reduced to nothing. We have built nations as freemen and as enslaved. You see, just as we talk about indigenous or native peoples of a continent, Black peoples are indigenous to the whole world. I am not lost.

deep print knowledge

I was mad at my 93 year old mom-n-law former art teacher and artist in her own right, for fussing about art materials. We were trying to get her interested in perhaps doing a little art to combat boredom. She has this tremor in her hands so that she can't hold a brush well or draw without squiggles. In her mind, as sharp as ever, she thinks she can do as she has done earlier in her life. Therefore she demands the best materials from the top shelf. I try to suggest cheaper alternatives because it would be a waste of expensive materials and a heartbreak when she can't make them do what she knows they can do. We haven't settled yet but I think she will win both the top shelf and the heartbreak.

I thought I would be immune to this, but as a digital artist, I am finding myself always looking for better equipment and materials. I bought a 4 ink inkjet printer, now I wish I could have afforded a 6 or 8 ink inkjet printer. More colors or gradations of the primary colors mean finer quality prints. I did buy a workhorse printer so it will handle more than business type papers and it has the after-market possibility of extended ink supply mechanisms. It also prints up to 13" x 44", that's a lot of creative possibility there.

What I did discover is that art printing is lightly touched even in Photoshop books. Photo printing however is made point-n-click easy, even red-eye removal is almost automatic. There are lots of tutorials on altering and fixing photos. Artist who draw and print are at a disadvantage, mostly all the books are geared to photo work or web graphics.

My printer prints fine on photo papers, though it does require tweaking to get it right. The real impressive work is on matte art papers, I could not believe the richness of the color even for a 4 ink print. 4 ink? Yes, CMYK or Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow and Black. Printing is a science by itself and takes as much effort as the techniques of putting brush to canvas. The outcome of the image is greatly effected by the printer, the inks, the paper or media. And even though all images that pass through a computer to a printer are the same (a digital file), photos and drawing require different considerations to make the outcomes as they are suppose to be.

So, I am getting fussy. Fussy means we take what we find off the shelf and make it more or less than it was to get the results we want. What's next a halo-deck? Hummmm!

Friday, May 20, 2011

wysiwyg is not my fault

You just bought a new printer it works great, the bells ring and the whistles whistle. You grab your second print (first was a text page, no problem), a color photo or drawing, walk past your monitor and do a double take, what, no WYSIWYG?!? You put the print up next to the screen and shift it so that the light hits it differently. If you hadn't looked, you'd wouldn't have noticed it prints a little darker, certain colors are off and the paper you used could have been better. Aren't PCs and printers and cameras and such supposed to be pre-set, instant or fuss-free? It's not my fault!

It's D's fault or rather default settings on everything. Default is good for average normal quick no-hassle no-brainier stuff. As soon as you want to do special stuff on a regular basis, you got to tweak and adjust and fiddle, swap materials and hold your mouth at a certain angle. No, it's not all luck and magic. You need some education, some carnal knowledge of the workings of your equipment to get the best results out of them. “I'm educated, I can figure this out!” You are educated enough to read the manual so that info you missed will be discovered by your so smart self, making you even smarter.

If you are using Microsoft or Mac, plus popular software like Adobe Photoshop and have a printer well used by photographers, there are oodles of resources quickly acquired via the net or libraries. I will list 4 books.

Mastering Digital Printing by Harald Johnson – Muska & Lipman
Digital Print Styles Recipe Book by Tim Daly – Peachpit Press
Epson Complete Guide to Digital Printing by Rob Sheppard – Lark Books
301 Inkjet Tips and Techniques by Andrew Darlow – Thomson Course Technology

Now, if you have a newer printer but not so well used, use Linux OS and software like GIMP and Inkscape, resources are less. Mainly because Linux is not big enough for vendors to chase after and users are often not the kind to document their work and findings for the world to see (they aren't prone to write books!). So we are gleaning info from other equipment setups and using that as a starting point to make it all work for us.

When I first touched computer graphics, there was not much talk about printing except text or maybe desktop publishing. Web designers and game artist don't have the concern like photographers and graphic artist. The printer is essential if the print is the important output of the PC itself. So here the problem the PC does the heavy lifting and shows you the picture on the monitor. Then the PC sends it to the printer on the other side. If you can't preview the printer's output by what you see on the monitor, you'll just have to take what the printer spits out. “Gee man, I should be able to make this better!” Exactly! I would want to see very close to what the printer prints before it prints, same colors, same values. This take some work, some time and pays off big time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

why artist struggle part 2

"I can't even draw a straight line." Who hasn't heard this. As an artist I can't either, as a drafter I used a ruler or AutoCad. That's just drama, the real suffering when you are used to one environment and then it changes. You are full of learning and practising, and reference material, you want to create something all your own. You have to forget it all until it is needed at the point of doing it. How do you hush all the voices planning and telling you what to do every step and every stroke. "I can't hear myself", you yell at everybody and everything.

Many resort to mind bending substances or a job in production art or not in art at all. I was surrounded by folks who had no relationship with the art world, and no idea that I was interested in that world. That casual social steering via acquaintances is like quicksand. Even the geeks know to hang with the geeks to maintain the geek life. Artist are feeling people, tend to get too close, too accessible. Artist at least visual ones like drawers, painters are solo performers. How the heck do you put away your social network long enough to go into your artistic process to make your mark.

I am learning to work amid interruptions, constant changes and endless suggestions (help). There is nothing like sweating for years at something and getting aid from ones who only want to say they helped you. I am being selfish I've been told. I now know the utility of cursing. My art, while in the process of my doing it, is my personal space, tread lightly, tread very lightly. Art is an enlarged personal space for the artist. When it is done, then he invites his audience to share, not before then.

Which brings me to critics and folks who need an explanation. "I would have done it different!", "What is it?" They force you to lie. A line of bull goes a long way. Gee, if I wrote down all the stories, it be a great book next to the bed stand. If you do realistic stuff, understandable stuff it's just "hum", "huh" and "aah!" The more symbolic or abstract, the more a good yarn is required. Do you personify the fib you are tell them, are you that deep, that shallow (I am shallow but vast, a very wide dude)? "You told me it was like this and now you say it's like that!" Hey, I am the artist and telling the lie of what it is is also art. I told you what you wanted to hear at the time I told you, for them it's different.

It's not all so harsh, sometimes it is all amusing the interactions of artist and audience. This is why we of the artistic bent need to get away, then come back, then go away again. The light changes, the people are varied, the times different.

After a good while, you know your own voice, you can use your training to extend your talents, you have a sense of people, not bothered by working alone or with another or taking an occasional help of a tagger. I laugh, an old guy just beginning to see all this 'an artist must suffer'. It is a lie and it is true too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

why creative artist struggle?

OK, you got gumption, training, skills and ideas, urgent ideas, what is the problem? The things of life that need attending to and the people around you who think you are wasting your energy or doodling till something important comes along. While they on their jobs would never call you off your job to do busy stuff, would call you because you aren't really working. Artist don't really work if they aren't working for some employer, drawing down a regular pay-check, punching in a time clock or keeping regular business hours. Art of the non-business variety is leisure stuff and is totally unimportant in the scheme of things, overrated, discounted and something to do when you are retired or laid up in a nursing home doing craft projects.

This is all true unless you are a great artist with an even greater patron buying your socks and forcing you to eat so that his good name isn't besmirched by your lack of caring about hygiene or social graces in public appearances. 'He's an artist', they all say, the covering excuse for the rampant abuse issuing from his attitude toward all who would criticise openly and disdain for ones whispering under their breath the truth. After all art is a lie sort of like the emperor with no clothes and the kid who is treated like pervert because he dares to tell it like it really is. 'Shut up kid, that's the style, the trend, the what's wid it!

Artist suffer the pains of life, the interruption of the flow of creative juices, the botherings of others, the having to set the satisfying creative execution aside for the urgent considerations of others. I always wondered why some artist have a studio where they can separate themselves from view. Out of sight, out of mind and tell their friends and family that when the door closes I am at work, only call for emergencies and lunch. It all changes if you sell something.............

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal and Unity so far

I have a verdict as if my judgment matters. Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal is fine until you consider the new Unity desktop. First of all a "default desktop" should work on the meager hardware and on the well endowed. Unity has behavior problems on the low end, it is not a light weight solution and maybe it is not meant to be. Installing Unity 2D allowed it to work on my laptop fairly good. The slowdown comes when graphic intensive apps are used. Could be just a hardware issue. I installed XFCE desktop, it works way better than Unity on my laptop.

Then there are things missing so that adjustments can't be made to closer match my way of working. Unity is more a touch screen interface than a mouse driven desktop. It recalls what is seen on many hand-held devices these days. The touchpad on my antique laptop is disabled because it is awkward to use, unstable, too touchy. Perhaps new devices are way better.

Unity is habit forming which means, I like it enough to keep playing with it. I hope it will improve. I also used Ubuntu Classic in Natty. It is flawless and is about to succumb to evolutionary changes into Gnome3. Gnome3 is similar to Unity with transparent layers, floating icons, retracting panels. I think KDE started this dashboard madness and incorporating compiz. The Linux folks are trying to prove they can deliver innovation and style as well as Apple and MS.

There is simple, there is sophisticated, and now simply sophisticated. How many functions can you put behind that big on off push button? Time will tell, things will change and we will change too.  You say no!? Eyeglass cleaning tissue got killed by contact lenses, got relabeled as hand-held device display cleaning tissue. 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

further developments

Linux has a reputation for resurrecting older hardware. The problem comes when old drivers are needed. My ancient (not pre-historic) Gateway 4026 laptop was stuck on Ubuntu 9.10. I couldn't upgrade, version 10.04 wouldn't even boot the live-cd, 10.10 ran but the wireless was unstable. With all the trouble I had with Ubuntu 11.04 on my desktop, it took a while to want to try it.

I did the usual backup of files (thank god for jump drives!), slipped in the CD and the net cable to the router.

It does the location, user ID, password, then gives you some hard drive options. I always choose manual manipulation. I select the partition that had the previous OS, erase via reformat, select file standard, check to boot from here (/), click the do it button.

It installed without a hiccup, even warned me I didn't have 3d acceleration hardware and when it came up was in a state that didn't need it. This did not happen on my desktop PC. Anyway the desktop that came up was Ubuntu Classic or regular Gnome. Then I had to open a terminal, type 'sudo apt-get install unity-2d' to install the new Unity desktop with lower resource requirements.

I was scared that the wireless would be a problem. I googled the forum pages, found I could install two apps to end my quest. Since my wireless chips were unsupported anymore there is one app to find a legacy driver and another to install it. I installed both, rebooted the laptop, configured the connection and had stable wireless. It is totally like the Twilight Zone that this beat up old laptop sports the new Ubuntu 11.04. I am checking out the Unity desktop, have wireless and it all runs pretty good.

Time to put the orange cones away, take down the yellow tape and get back to work.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

orange cones and yellow tape

Something big happened at the Linuxville chateau. There is orange cones and yellow tape about. Hey, why you looking for the chalk outline? The only thing that expired was the MAC look as the holy grail for a desktop. I'm glad that's over. There is only so much you can do before you just copy it outright.

I did an upgrade over my Ubuntu 10.10 to 11.04. All went well until I rebooted, I gasped (ooh the horror of it!), big white square with vertical lines and white text I couldn't read. I think the video drivers are touchy with my hardware. While I booted I hit a down arrow and return and that did the trick. I got the login screen.

I didn't change anything, typed in my password, hit return, the white screen came back again, hitting me and blinding me. I grabbed at the reboot button on my PC, pressed it. Got back to the login screen, this time I clicked the session button selected "Ubuntu Classic", it came up nice and clean. The problem was I was expecting the new UNITY desktop, which didn't work. I think the cause was the default settings have 3d hardware acceleration in mind, too powerful for my average PC. The Ubuntu Classic is the Gnome desktop we all know and love (or loath), it works fine and is gorgeous.

I wanted so bad to love/hate UNITY like everyone else. Then I read on a web site to sudo apt-get install unity-2d in a terminal. Afterwards to logout, login selecting Unity 2D from the sessions menu. It felt like the part of a murder mystery where the band plays "Click the Mouse Slowly". Unity came up and it works. "It's alive!! I cried (of course!). Want to see it?

The first is at rest, note the icons on the side, that's the favorites launcher. The background is changeable. And the panel at the top carries the system stuff for each active application just like the MAC. Below shows MYPaint open. The side launcher retracts when an app is active but reappears when the cursor is positioned in the upper left corner or left side (your choice).

There are many things to explore and I won't spoil it for you. As you work with it, it gets into your ways and means. You will find the way to work with it. It will become as familiar to you as the other desktops you use. Awkward at first, then annoying little quirks, then I kind of like it, then golly geewhiz guys, ain't it cool!!