Monday, April 28, 2008


Two skills that have deteriorated due to the excessive use of computers are:
  • writing with a pencil/pen.
  • reading, but not really reading.
Sure, the latter is, to some extent, a result of laziness. But having the option to search keywords in digital documents when reading them on a computer screen has contributed significantly.

The direct effect of this was felt very recently as I have been trying to manage a small personal website using Wordpress as a Content Management System (CMS). I am not web-development expert, though I do volunteer as a project manager/web developer for an organization that helps non-profits with their website needs.

Wordpress is great, pretty simple to use and with very little php or sql knowledge, you can have a pretty decent website (blatant link promotion) ready in minutes. Besides a few other things, I had a simple desire to have the first page/home page/front page be static and the dynamic content (blog, etc) be linked from there. Fairly simple as a feature, yet I managed make it way too hard on myself by not RTFming (this is a G-rated blog folks...) the manual.

As it turns out, it is fairly simple, and here are a few methods to do this:
a) Page-template + Configuration option
Create a page template for static home page and configure your wordpress settings to show static page and point your blog/posts to another static page. This is also a good way to have your static page also be dynamic, where say it shows your most recent 5 posts. You would do this by coding that part in the php template that you create.

b) php hacking
This seems more like a hack. And it worked well until I upgraded to Wordpress 2.5. Since then the link for pointing to the blog/posts always ended up taking me to the static homepage.

c) Adding a Wordpress plugin
A google search points me to more than one Wordpress plugin that is supposed to make setting (and managing) a static home page fairly easy to do. Never tried it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

load of do-do

I believe one of the most brilliant examples of open source software projects is Firefox. Since I have been feeling a little bold these days (will write later about the experiences with Ubuntu 8.04 that was released today), so I upgraded to Firefox 3.0b5 on the Windows desktop that I _use_ at work.

The experience so far has been very disappointing.

1) This was expected, but it disabled a ton of Add-ons that were not compatible:
Gmail Space
RealPlayer Broswer Record Plugin
Session Fix
View Source Chart (and I was just starting to use this...)
Zoho Notebook Helper
Zoho QuickRead

2) The integrated Flash Player is not reliable at all. Nuemorous times I have had to refresh the page because the Flash movie would not play on the frist attempt. Also, I have had Firefox crash due to the player.

3) More than a couple of times today Firefox has frozen when using multiple tabs and switching between them. I normally have about 5 to 8 tabs open which isn't a lot.

4) I have history disabled, but for a session, I was able to see all the urls that I have typed in. That has been replaced by what seems to be the bookmarks. Any way I can just see the history there?

5) Crashed today when playing a quicktime audio file (must have been mp3).

6) It forced me to write this post in IE!

Since I don't really care about the new features, to me it has just been a load of do-do. I quickly checked and Hardy has Firefox 3 beta 4 as its default browser. There has already been some noise about the issue with Flash player killing Firefox.

I am downgrading back to Firefox 2.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

more of a good thing

Some news and information worth sharing.

* In a recent Open Source Census report, Ubuntu tops the list with 46% of installations. Its a global project to count the number of each open source distributions. Obviously it focuses on businesses, which gives Ubuntu an edge with it becoming the distribution of choice for desktop installations.

Want to sumbit a report for your organization?

* Also in relevant news earlier in the week, RedHat and Novell (Fedora for desktops) have decided to let Ubuntu be the distribution of choice for end-user desktop installations and concentrate their focus on desktops for commercial markets. In a way, Ubuntu is reaping the rewards of work done by the earlier by RedHat and later on by Fedora.

Monday, April 21, 2008

never go hungry ...feeds

I am slowly getting to a point where it just seems like there is more information that I am required to digest than I can keep up with. And having good tools to get you that information does make the task itself easier, but nothing makes the amount of information any lesser. Come to think of it, wouldn't it be great to have a hash function that maps segments of information into your brain with a key for easy retrieval later?

Anyways I digress. A few days ago I heard a smart person say that a good way to judge what the other person knows is just by looking at his/her OPML. In case you have your feeds on Yahoo!, if you are logged into your account, this is where you can get your OPML:

I have been using Liferea Feed Reader recently which does a good job of bringing your feeds to the desktop. But I am looking for something prettier, something more apt for Ubuntu. Its adequate, but not attractive. Any suggestions?

cheesy name....yet useful

Terminator.....really? I guess sometimes you cannot have both; a useful tool and a good name (katapult anyone?)

Anybody who has needed to use the terminal, generally needs more than one all the time. So a tool that arranges multiple GNOME (I have never been a KDE convert) terminals on the screen and manages to add/remove/resize and jump between these multiple terminal windows is a useful addition to your applications.

On first impressions, Terminator seems to do the job nicely. When you launch it, you get one screen. You can split this horizontally or vertically and keep adding and use your screen space in an efficient manner. The moving between the terminals using the keyboard can take a little getting used to (ctrl + shit + n and ctrl + shit + p).

Seems like for Hardy (8.04) you can do a:
sudo apt-get install terminator

For 7.10 (yay! I finally upgraded) and below you need to download the source code and install.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ubuntu community strength

I am probably not the first to make this observation, but its worthy of a mention since the single biggest reason why I use Ubuntu is the strength of the community.

More often than not, you are going to find the information that is exactly relevant to what you are looking for in the Ubuntu forums or on another discussion through a simple Google search. That gives me enough confidence to try out anything that I am curious about and that remotely sounds of use to me. That makes the experience of using Ubuntu a very nice one and in turn the feedback the community developers receive of those new features improves them and in general the overall experience.

Since I have been having trouble enabling desktop effects (more on that in a later post), I have been trying out more than a few things including installing and removing packages (without completely understanding/reading the information). After one of such experiments, I ended up getting a "The X system keyboard settings differ from your current GNOME keyboard settings" message each time X server started. The fix, described with a brief explanation of the possible reason was found, where else, but on a Ubuntu forums thread.

upgrading to 7.10

The feature list for Gusty Gibbon (Ubuntu 7.10) never provided me reason(s) enough to upgrade from my fairly satisfactory 7.04. So, it was ironic that it was on the day when the 8.04 release candidate was announced, I decided to finally move up.

Some of the lessons learned in the upgrade process:

- You can upgrade only to the next release up. So 7.04 -> 7.10 -> 8.04 -> and so on.
- The Live CD is great for a new install. However, to upgrade from your current version, you need a alternate CD (make sure to check on the selection button that says "Check here if you need the alternate desktop CD".
- The best way to upgrade would have been to use the Network Upgrade method, but I have a slow wireless Internet connection and the (clever?) Update Manager never shows me that option.
- The entire upgrade process is fairly hands-off, prompts the users about 3 or 4 times, but does the bluk of the work without any inputs......the way it should be.

update - on Online Television and Ubuntu

A few days ago, I wrote about watching television online. Looks like my concern about having a common interface to be able to watch good quality shows from various networks on any platform (more specifically on my Ubuntu laptop) without having to install a different player is being address by a startup called Hulu.

All you need is a fairly recent version of Flash Player (probably Flash player 9 and higher). The quality seems great and they host content from a lot of networks including ABC and NBC. Of course television shows (new and old) isn't the only option available. There are full length movies and NBA network clips also available.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Linux marketing

I know I have been slacking ( was tax season, and I also need to make a living), but have enough posts drafted out that I will publish over the next few days. Meanwhile, some Linux marketing that could cater to the consumer markets rather than enterprise vendors and customers:

Friday, April 4, 2008

top firefox extensions

One more along the line of "slacker" posts....

Some/all of my favorite Firefox extensions (not in any particular order)

ScrapBook - save web pages, notes.

Download Helper - Save YouTube and other Flash (.flv videos).

Yahoo and Gmail Notifier - Notifies you when new messages arrive. Though, it can be distracting if you are an email-addict.

CustomizeGoogle Options - I wonder how people who do not use this option ever have a clean Internet experience.

ScribeFire - Its a blog editor that pops up that makes it easy to post to your blog. Can be great if you think of something worth while and do not wish you spend a few clicks to log into your blog.

Google Notebook - It used to be useful for taking notes and putting links, etc that you can access from other machines. I use it most as a bookmarks tab that I can open in any place. Scrapbook is a better option.

There are a few extensions that are very useful, even for the minimal web-development work I do for non-profits:
Source Chart
Web Developer

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Online Television programming and Ubuntu

Have had this in the "drafts" section since a while.....

Even though I have a 46" LCD TV, I am not too keen on paying my cable distributor an exorbitant amount of money each month to receive HD, keep a DVR and then watch the few TV shows of interest on my own time which is generally between 12:30am and 2:30am in the night. So, the most convenient way for me is to watch them on my laptop which has a decent 15.4" screen and the Toshiba TruBrite (c) technology.

Obviously the convenience of not being tied to the television schedule helps, but even the commercials are fewer for the online versions and you can run some scripts while watching without having to look up from your screen!

As a simple desire, The Daily Show is available the next day in flash which plays in Firefox, so thats a start.

As for network stations, here is the breakup for the big three stations (non-cable)

ABC - This has probably the best quality HD programming which looks great on a large LCD if you try it. The catch is however, that even though it works great it Firefox, it needs Windows. I haven't checked recently, but I doubt there is a Ubuntu port for that flash player/codec?

NBC - They have some of their best shows (which is not many) available in flash and the player/interface is not bad. Plays in Firefox.

Fox - Their flash player also needs an installer for Windows, but probably runs in Firefox. Can't get it to play in Ubuntu...than again, I don't want to spend any effort figuring this out to be able to watch How I Met Your Mother!

I had read an article in Business Week a few months ago talking about this thing in particular; Online TV (as opposed to IPTV, which is a little different). Its an interesting read, and things are constantly changing it seems and moving in the right far as the consumers are concerned.

trying out some apps

Over the last few weeks I have been lazy and distracted from doing actual work (as in something that pays) in the evenings. Thats why I have been doing searches like Top 10 Ubuntu applications.

Some of what I have installed and started using (not in any particular order):

Katapult (sudo apt-get install katapult)
Application launcher that matches the application name as soon as you start typing the first few letters. Launch it using Alt-Space.

Kopete (sudo apt-get install kopete)
Enhanced multi-protocol chat client, webcam and voice(?). Like the interface on first impressions, but it will take a lot more to move away from Pidgin.

GParted (sudo apt-get install gparted)
Gnome Partition Editor, utility for disk partitions that reformats hard drives into many formats including FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS. Will need to try it out soon since I am running out of disk space in my Ubuntu partition if I keep installing applications at this rate!

Some that I have installed and then un-installed (of course in that order):

Tried it as an enhanced chat client that does webcam and voice, but the interface is crappy at best.

Some that I would soon try (probably in that particular order)

music player with plugin and some other features (I will find out).

Desktop RSS feed reader (sudo apt-get install liferea)