All posts filed under “Computers

“There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary numerals, and those who don’t.”

― Ian Stewart, Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities

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Happy 20th birthday Windows 95.

Apparently it’s the 20th anniversary of Windows 95. Love it or hate it (most will say they hate it) it was an important development in home computing. Yes, Apple/Commodore/Xerox et al did it first but they didn’t open up the market the way Microsoft did. In many ways that was what MS always did best;take someone elses idea and put a marketing juggernaut behind it.

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Choosing a GF friendly Linux for netbooks

My SO’s netbook is choking. I’m hoping it’s just caused by a flakey and poorly maintained Ubuntu install and not the symptoms of a netbook on its last legs.

While she’s back home for a week in .fi I have a chance to reinstall the OS. I thought I’d take the opportunity to install a more netbook friendly flavour of Linux.

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praest76@home:~$ sudo apt-get install something-better

Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
The following extra packages will be installed:
shitloads shitloads-dev shitloads-dbg libshitloads libshitloads-dev gholdem
Suggested packages:
tuxcart iesperanto kholdem kholdem-themes hurd hurd-doc-se
The following NEW packages will be installed
shitloads shitloads-dev shitloads-dbg libshitloads libshitloads-dev gholdem
0 upgraded, 7,346,982 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 45.7 TB/47.1 TB of archives.
After this operation, 158 TB of additional disk space will be used.
Do you want to continue [Y/n]? Fuck off

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Tux sux, and you know it!

Which is the odd one out?

Yeah, that’s right.

Regardless of any personal opinion you might have about the companies in question, Apple and Microsoft both have well designed and instantly recognisable logos. Apple’s in particular is a cultural icon. The windows logo is ubiquitous. Tux, on the other hand… Tux is an embarrassment. A childish mascot that gives off an air of lame cartoonish amateurism. Tux was probably fine, way back when. Linus Torvalds was a student with his free clone of Minix that was being used by bearded sandal-wearing geeks who, let’s be honest here, didn’t care that much about their appearance. Yes, I’m dealing in stereotypes, but it was largely true. The cool kids didn’t use Linux. It was the bespectacled weirdos who read William Gibson, listened to Rush and played Dungeons & Dragons at the weekend who were using Linux. Some of them wore t-shirts that had holes in the armpits and only got their hair cut when concerned relatives insisted on it. For these folks Tux was fine. They got a plush version and put it on their book-shelf next to their plush Cthulhus and Star Trek technical manuals.

Now Linux is becoming a household name and is seen as the socialist’s free alternative to the capitalist dominance of Microsoft Windows and the new-(w)age cult of Apple, it kinda needs something better than a cuddly penguin that says nothing whatsoever about the operating system and just sits there looking like something that helps pre-schoolers with maths.

The majority of the most popular distributions of Linux available today have better logos than Tux, the problem with them is that they only represent that particular distribution of Linux. What we need is a universal logo for Linux. One that says “LINUX” to the world without featuring a cartoon animal or looking like the preserve of people who wear Hush-Puppies and carry a multi-tool strapped to their belt even when they are shopping for groceries.

I’m not a great artist. I’m not even a good artist. I could probably come up with something better than Tux if I put my mind to it, but it wouldn’t be good enough to garner support from the curmudgeonly geeks that populate the Linux world. I’ve always suspected that many of the are secretly against the mainstream popularity of Linux as they feel that Linux is “their” OS, and Tux is “their” mascot and they don’t want folks messing with the inherent image of “their” Linux. These are probably the same folks that look down on anyone who uses a windowed desktop.

What I advocate is this: We have a competition to design a new universal logo for Linux. First prize will be to see your logo everywhere in a few years.

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The Myth of the Perfect Sync

Here’s the scenario:

I use GoogleMail for email and Google Calendar for… well, calendaring… and all that it entails. I occasionally use KDE Kontact on Linux, but that has subsided somewhat since my love affair with GoogleMail began. Google’s web apps impress me, I must say. I only started using them as a stop-gap measure when I was between computers, but I’ve got so used to the ease of use and… well.. just the generally way that they seem to handle what they do it a simple yet proper and well though-out way.

I also, like 105% of the population of Ireland, have a cellular phone. This is where I get down to the crux of the matter… No, I was always going to get there… I want to sync my contacts and calendar between GoogleMail/Calendar and my phone; a Nokia 6070. Ideally keeping Kontact in the loop too for good measure. This should be easy; Kontact syncs with GoogleMail and Calendar. Then I link my phone to the computer using Bluetooth or InfraRed or old fashioned USB, and Kontact then syncs with that. All the details are kept up to date and identical between all three mediums and I can get on with life…

Except it doesn’t work that way. It never works that way. That would take all the challenge out of life.

Firstly… there is no automated a friendly way to sync Kontact and Google apps. There is a few kludges that will give you a twisted mockery of sync. There is also GCALSync which seems to partially sync my calendar between Google Calendar and Kontact if I set it up as a go-between. It then sits quietly in the background hogging 90% of my CPU time and leaving me feeling like I’m expected to set up a separate machine just for this. Apparently it also sets itself up as an LDAP server to access your GoogleMail contacts but, Jeeze… I want to use the computer for other things, you know?

Ignoring that, there is possibly a way involving writing a convoluted script, otherwise syncing my GoogleMail contacts with Kontact means exporting them from GoogleMail as a .csv file and importing that. This is not sync. As virtually every address book software in the universe has it’s own fields and its own way of interpreting them we end up with a horrible mess that requires an hour or five of manual reconstruction and maintenance. No, this is not something you’ll want to do regularly.

Then it comes to syncing from Kontact to my phone. Forget it. There are no drivers for my phone on Linux. Like the majority of such hardware, the manufacturers have made no effort to support anything other than Microsoft Outlook. Hence the reason it’s so popular: You have to use it if you want to sync with 95% of the phones on the market.

This is the point where things start to get complicated. No, really.

The method by which I’ve managed to sync is thus:

I reboot my girlfriends laptop into it’s Windows XP partition and power up Microsoft Outlook. You have no idea how vile this makes me feel. I feel soiled. Anyway, 75% of the time the Nokia software will realise I’m there with my phone and might want it to do something. My phone doesn’t have Bluetooth and the laptop doesn’t have IR, so I’m stuck with USB. And 25% of the time I may as well have stuck the cable up my arse. Regardless, it mostly works. It syncs my phone contacts and calendar with Outlook. It also syncs my to-do and notes from the phone too, which is good as I used my phones notes function to write and maintain shopping lists as well as jot down the odd reminder when I’m out (a notebook and pen would be quicker but anyone who has seen my handwriting and knows what a bad memory I have will understand why I do it this way). This is all well and good, but how does this all reach Google? While on my searches I discovered GooSync who apparently do a good job of syncing your phone with Google apps. They also support the Nokia 6070, problem is that it’s a premium service and my employment future is unsure. So I’ve opted for more kludge. Google, rather nicely, have a Calendar Sync software that syncs up quite neatly with Outlook. So that’s grand, but the GoogleMail contacts still prove a problem. How did I do it?

I exported my contacts as .csv and exchanged them between GoogleMail and Microsoft Outlook. Then I spent hours fixing the mess. I now have a headache and a hatred for everything. For one of the first times in my life I wished I had less friends. i’m sure it’s all out of date anyway…

Apparently, Google are planning to follow up their much welcomed support of IMAP in GoogleMail with LDAP. This will take the edge off somewhat, but the main problem is the lack of proper standards amongst providers and a lack of support amongst hardware manufacturers for anything other than the “industry standards” like Microsoft Outlook

What we need is more acceptance of free and open source software, more openness by hardware developers and less pandering to sluggish old giants like Microsoft.

In future I’ll make sure any hardware I buy is Linux supported; This is the only way people like me have of getting our needs noticed, by boycotting companies that only support closed source, proprietary platforms.

If this rant comes across as negative or pessimistic, then forgive me. I’m frustrated by this and have been for the many years I’ve been attempting to synchronise various things with other things and failing to some degree or another. If anyone has any tips of suggestions then please feel free to leave them with me.

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Why I still run Windows

I’m distinctly unemployable. I’ve been unable to stay in a career for any length of time, usually getting bored and leaving or sticking it out and eventually going mental and killing my co-workers with items of furniture.

Because of this I am regularly looking for work. Adobe Acrobat, being a fairly standard format, was once the format I chose to email out my CV in. I was wrong. While it is a standard format for many users world-wide it seems it’s not a standard format amongst employers. They all want Microsoft Document (.doc). Except the ones that don’t, who want RTF because it’s the standard file format in the century they still live in and is what runs on MS Works their Win 3.1 Pentiums. Occasionally when I’ve got used to sending .doc and .rtf one will spring on me with contempt because they want .pdf, just to be awkward. No, there is no real standard amongst employers, possibly because many of them are morons, but I digress…

I began to send my CV out as .doc. I don’t like doing this because I don’t like MicroSoft Office. I don’t own a copy you see. All my PCs have been self-built. I haven’t owned a copy of Windows since about 95. I’ve neve bought anything else from the company. I can’t afford to, even if I wanted to. Not that I should need to, as the most popular open source equivalent is free. I made up a CV in It seemed fine. I emailed it to 40 employers, I got one response. I expect this. However, it was when I loaded it up in a copy of Office on my girlfriends Windows laptop that I discovered that what seems formatted correctly in might not necessarily be formatted the same in Microsoft Office. My CV looked like it has been drawn up by a computer illiterate pensioner. Most of the employers I applied to probably run MS Office. So this is what they saw. I certainly wouldn’t hire someone that sent me this bollocks. Obviously they have no idea how to use MS Office, despite claiming otherwise on their CV.

So, because employers want .doc, I need to use .doc if I want a job. Because the competition can’t save a 100% compatable .doc file I need to use MS Office. Steve Balmer is rubbing his nipples right now. I doubt he even cares that I’m using a warezed copy.

I mananged to convince my girlfriend to let me install Ubuntu linux on her laptop. It duel-boots Windows XP for “safety”. There have been many teething problems related to getting her used to Linux. Tapping the track-pad doesn’t work reliably, which is what she’s used to. The Vodaphone supplied Huawei E200 3G modem works on a prayer. The software is buggy and beta and if the carrier drops I seem to need to reset the PC to get it to recognise the modem again.

Last week we rented out some DVD’s for our anniversary. After being reminded that the default Ubuntu install doesn’t play DVD’s and needs restricted dependencies, I then discovered the useful auto-update feature that loaded up Synaptic was rather useless as Synaptic had broken. After installing via apt-get (not something that’s particularlly girlfrien-friendly) I then discovered the default player Totem, is cack. It crashed when I paused the playback and wouldn’t play anything until I reset the machine. Of course as it was our anniversary and we just wanted to watch a bloody film and not spend the night with her getting frustrated watching me buggering about with software. We used Media Player Classic which was installed on Windows. It worked fine.

I’m running mplayer, but all Linux movie players have crap interfaces that aren’t girlfriend-friendly. Totem is useless.

I’m not even going to go into the headache we’ve had with getting the various laptop TV cards we have to work. They don’t work reliably on Linux at all and recording from them seems to be a massive headache. It seems to take so much time that I just don’t have to get any of this software to work. Hardware compatablity databases are useless as many of them require people like me to buy the hardware first and report on it. Great. I can’t afford to do hardware compatability tests free for the linux community. I’ve wasted my meagre earnings on so much unsupported hardware. I’m not a software developer so I can’t write my own drivers, if I was I still doubt I’d have time. Linux is still not an Os for the casual user in my opinion. I wish it was, but there is no way I’d reccomend it for my mum, or my girlfriend to be honest. We boot into Windows most of them time. It saves a lot of hassle. She gets to do what she needs to and I don’t have to spend hours setting anything up. As it’s currently our only PC I use it too the majority of the time. If I want to watch TV or DVDs or even go online… it’s the only real option for us.

This is why I still run Windows.