Archive for January, 2009

Offline GMail!

GMail has a new Labs feature: Offline GMail!

I’ve been waiting for this ever since Google Gears came out, but late is better than never. Let there be much rejoicing.


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What’s the Big Deal with Macs?

Last Saturday, I was at the public library. Their computer section was dissappointingly sparse, so I went to the public computer (machine, not book) section, and sat down in front of the Mac. Why? To see what the big deal with them was all about.

While I was there, I typed up a post explaining all of my problems with them, but when I hit “Publish”, it published without body text. Asute readers may’ve noticed an empty post called “Mac Confusion” (I’ve deleted it since then though).

And I’m not going to spell out all my issues again, unless it’s requested in the comments. Suffice to say I had multiple problems.

And that’s fine. I’ve had problems in Windows. I’ve had problems in Ubuntu. Problems happen on computers (although what were they thinking when they designed Finder? And the Dock…and window behavior (hitting the X doesn’t remove the arrow from the Dock–you have to do File-Quit. What?)

But I had enough problems with the Mac that I’m wondering why all the Mac fanboys of this world are willing to pay extra money for a very restrictive platform that, in my opinion, has many problems? That’s not rhetorical. Why should someone pay several hundred dollars more for a Mac (glorified Unix) than for a Linux (glorified Unix) box? I’m not trying to be fresh, I’m not trying to be sarcastic–I’m just no fool. There’s been enough hype over the past, what TWENTY YEARS about the Mac that I want to know what the fuss is about. And I’m not talking about “Oh, well it’s good at video editing” or “I really like the theme.” I want “it’s more secure” or “the hard drive doesn’t fragment” or “it doesn’t bloat over time, so you don’t need to reinstall it.” (No, you can’t use those, they count for Linux too).

Thank you.


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Some Thoughts on Twitterfeed

Twitter has become an immensely popular…website…(what do you want to call it? Micro-blogging platform?). And it’s also pretty new, so people are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to offer my opinion on one thing: Twitterfeed.

The way Twitterfeed works is that you give it a feed, your username, and your password. Then you fill out a template, and everytime that feed is updated, it’ll post a link in Twitter.

Sounds awesome annoying. Because here’s the thing: People that care about your blog will subscribe to it in an RSS reader, and resent the duplication they receive through Twitter. Also: People who don’t care about your blog won’t want to hear about it in Twitter, and will resent your bombarding of “spam” tweets.

Don’t hang yourself yet, there are three exceptions:

  1. If you’re someone like @LinuxJournal, who isn’t a “real person”, but rather an automated way of publication.
  2. If you receive a constant amount of new followers. They may not’ve heard of your blog, and a little publicity isn’t a bad thing, right? ;)
  3. If, either by the creation of a new feed, or by disabling Twitterfeed and doing this manually, you only link to what you consider to be an exceptional post. People may not care to read all of your posts, but won’t mind reading a few quality ones.

But besides that, I beseech you not to use Twitterfeed, just as common courtesy. Thank you.

Speaking about Twitter, why not follow me? (What was that line about a little publicity? :) )


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Response to “Why Games are NOT the Key to Linux Adoption”

All right, I’ve officially joined the fray.

Andrew Min first wrote a pretty insightful article called “Why Games are Key to Linux Adoption“. It was pretty darn popular, receiving a response from Lifehacker and CNET,  getting 60-something Diggs and lots of “Dude, that is sooooo right” comments.

And now Jon Peck has written a counter to it on FSM–”Why Games are NOT the Key to Linux Adoption“. I disagree with a lot of it, and this has become something of a hot topic, so I wanted to give my own take on the issue:

Peck starts out with accusing Min of stereotyping gamers, then stereotypes them himself, saying “Console gamers want to flip a switch, flop down in front of the television, and play a game.” Either that’s irrelevant or wrong. Console gamers have absolutely nothing to do with Linux, and I don’t know why they’re being dragged into this. Computer gamers are adventurous folk–as Min suggested. I won’t be so bold as to say ‘all’, but I think a sizeable percentage of hardcore gamers build their own dream rig, from the graphics card pick right down to the case mod. Gamers are generally pretty computer-literate–they know enough to mess around and not hurt themselves, and they do it to save money.

Speaking about money, Peck pokes some fun at Min for the way he described Microsoft’s business model. Essentially, Microsoft provides Vista for pre-installation at rock-bottom prices to OEMs, but retail Vista is ridiculously expensive. He then blathers on a bit, saying gamers aren’t worried about money, they could buy a PS3, and that getting a computer from an OEM comes with cheap-Vista. None of that’s fair. The vast majority of gamers are 35 or under, and money is generally tight for them. Even if it isn’t, PC gamers usually care about the amount of money (or the amount of system) they could save if they built the computer themselves. And PS3s are an entirely different animal–please don’t bring them in, Peck. And the keeper quote of the thought:

“Comparing the direct financial cost of a free product to a full retail price just isn’t fair in this context; there are better ways of demonstrating the worth of GNU/Linux.”

Fair? FAIR!? You’re going to talk about FAIRNESS between the monopoly of Microsoft and consistently shafted GNU/Linux? I’ll agree that GNU/Linux has a lot of things going for it that aren’t price, but price is a big factor too. Remember how we just discussed that?

Finally, Peck closes with a lame-brained series of reminders about how many games there are for GNU/Linux, either natively or with Wine/Cedega. Fail. Hardcore gamers are attracted to mainstream games, and want them to install easily and flawlessly. Getting a good gaming experience with Wine, or playing second-string alternatives just doesn’t matchup? Are gamers wrong to want the best experience possible?


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That Cloying Taste of Failure

Well that didn’t take long.

Despite repeated attempts, and an optimistic outlook FreeDOS just won’t install on my old laptop.

That’s not true.

GRUB cannot recognize the FreeDOS installation, throwing an Error 17. So the long and short of it I can’t use FreeDOS.

I think the reason is because of my bad hard drive–it has corrupted sectors. Puppy and Ubuntu GTK1.2 Remix managed to work around them, Windows Me dealt with them (since it was never installed with them) Xubuntu and FreeDOS both didn’t like them.

I’m kind of disappointed, but I may be able to unearth an even older candidate. We’ll see.


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Plan: Classic Gaming Station

Astute people will know that I had some plans for my old laptop. The result of that was:

  • I put Puppy Linux on it (Ubuntu GTK1.2 Remix’s installer had been fixed, but Puppy just seemed like a better choice for my needs).
  • I learned that it actually has 128MB of RAM (it just labelled it as two sets of 64MB, which is what confused me the first time).
  • In spite of Puppy’s wonderfulness, the wireless card didn’t work (who cares) and neither did the sound card (kind of important for a jukebox). And as delightful as it may be to compose documents in Abiword, I didn’t see much use for that.

So I have a new plan:

I’ll remove Puppy, install FreeDOS, and use that to convert it into a game station for my childhood games (which seem pretty recent to many) : Keen, Crystal Caves, Raptor, Duke Nukem (1 and 2), Jetpack, Jazz Jackrabbit, Epic Pinball, Wolfenstein, and many many others (I’ll take anyone on in a LAN race with Wacky Wheels).

I’ll also probably download some more I didn’t know about (there’s a ridiculously large amount of websites hosting them).

I’ll keep you guys posted about how it goes.

Many thanks to Ronnie Tucker for writing about creating a classic console arcade-computer–it inspired me to get this idea.

PS: Ads may or may not let me break even with hosting, so if you want to make a blogger really really happy, there’s now a donation button at the bottom of the sidebar.


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Idea: How to Make Drivers Easier for Everyone

One of the main problems with Linux adoption is drivers. Webcams, MP3 players, wireless cards, voice recorders–most of them are problematic, and some of them are downright unusable on Linux. In fact, drivers are kind of a mess everywhere–pop quiz: Where’s your CD of that PCMCIA card driver? How quickly can you navigate a company’s website to download a new driver? Don’t forget the ambiguous, equivocal and generally misleading UI that seems to be standard in all driver-providing websites.

I have a solution: The creation of the UDR–Unified Driver Repository.

Here’s how it works:

Somebody–be they a Windows, Mac or Linux user–gets a new piece of hardware, and tentatively plug it in to their computer. If it works they move on with their life. If it doesn’t, they open up the (cross platform) UDR client, type in the model number of their new hardware, and–a la Synaptic–put a check mark next to the appropriate driver (which must be available for all three platforms, for free). They close the UDR client, it downloads and installs the driver, and zap! you have a driver.

Sound simple? It’s supposed to be.

The question is: Why would hardware makers spend the extra time and money on submitting their drivers to the UDR? Easy: Good old capitalistic competition. Consumers like the ease of the UDR. Consumers prefer hardware compliant with the UDR. Hardware makers that put their drivers in the repository will receive more business than those that don’t. Even if it means making the driver compatible for more platforms.

Naturally, Microsoft is going to join the fray. They’ll release their own, proprietary version, they’ll make it Windows-only, they’ll poke fun at Macs and Linux, and they’ll figure out how to make money off of it (at a guess, I’d say through charging the hardware makers a fee to be included on The List). That’s fine–they’ll lose anyway. Why? For the same reason nobody would use IE if Firefox had come out first. Why go with a proprietary, single platform imitation when the ‘real deal’ is better and free? The only reason is that companies would be just as happy to only release a Windows driver, but if the original UDR is good enough, that’s a faceable problem. The Linux (and open source in general) community has dealt with more serious issues.

And can you imagine walking into a store, and seeing that brand new wireless card have a sticker on it proclaiming “UDR Compliant”, with a penguin, apple and window logo? I sure want to.


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Browser Crashability

Bashing Chrome has become a kind of hobby for me, but I’ve begun to feel bad about it–there are quite a few really nice features. One of these is how it handles JavaScript. So I ran a benchmark to test it against Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7.

The Test

The test is simple: Open up this link (caution: It will crash your browser) from an email I sent to myself, open a new tab, switch between tabs a bit, and then close the problematic tab. Simple.

The Results

Firefox: Firefox started great–I was able to open a new tab and conduct a Google search after the crash page loaded. However, the browser crashed when I tried to close the crash tab. 3/5

IE7: By far the worst–as soon as I opened the link everything crashed, and closing it was even harder than closing the dead Firefox. 0/5

Chrome: I was hoping that I would get an infamous “Sad Tab.” I was wrong. The crash tab did nothing to affect performance–I opened a new tab, used it, switched back to GMail, closed the crash tab, and nothing happened. It was very exciting. 5/5


So this pretty much says what we knew already: Chrome is great at JavaScript, Firefox is great at everything else, and IE7 is terrible.

But I will be  very excited to either have Chrome adapt the usability of Firefox, or Firefox to adapt the solidity of Chrome–the utter nonchalance with which Chrome handled the test is still blowing my mind. I’m pumped.


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How I Teleport through the Internet with Firefox

I’ve ranted and whined about Google Chrome before, so don’t worry–I won’t do it again. But one of my main issues with it was the “Omnibar”. The thing is: Firefox has a very powerful, reasonably intuitive set of bars, and I can teleport through the internet with them. Chrome just fell short of that standard.

So the question is: How do I do it?

  1. Feel lucky: I search for a lot of things. But most of the time I don’t need multiple opinions–the first webpage I find will be good enough to answer the question of the moment. So I save time by typing my query into the address bar, not the search bar. This usually does an “I’m Feeling Lucky” Google search, and takes me to the #1 page. Good enough for me.
  2. …but know when to search: This one’s pretty much a given–actually use the search bar. Ctrl-K will jump the cursor there, and Ctrl-<Arrow Keys> will navigate through the search engine being used. Having to go to an actual search engine’s website, click (or tab to) the search bar, and then actually query is a big waste of time.
  3. Fine-tune your search engines:Clicking on the arrow by the search bar will let you “Manage Search Engines”. Trim the list of redundancies (I’ll give you a hint: You do not need Google, Yahoo and Ask. Pick one). Now the Ctrl-<Arrow Keys> is much more streamlined. Also know which ones to add–Manage Search Engines->Get more search engines will give you a list of popular ones to choose from. Also, if you’re at the actual website (i. e.: the search button will highlight, and you’ll be given the option of adding it right then and there.
  4. Do the keywords: Back at the “Manage Search Engines” box, highlight a common-but-not-primary engine you use (Wikipedia for me) and give it a keyword (I used “w”) now prefixing your query in the address bar with that keyword will use the indicated search engine. This is even faster than the Ctrl-<Arrow Keys> method, especially when you know that Ctrl-L moves the cursor to the address bar.
  5. Be awesome: The address bar, lovingly called the “Awesome Bar” by developers and fans alike, has made most of my bookmarks worthless. Use it frequently–it will know what page you’re after. To improve you success rate, try to use unique words. For example, when I was finding the link to my article “My Last Whine About Google Chrome”, I went with “whine” first–not “Google” or “Chrome” since I’ve been to a lot of websites with those words in the title. Whining? Not so common. Also incorporate the URL–if I want to see how the Digg page is doing, I’ll go “whine digg”. And if all I know is that I saw something cool on the NY Times–a site that I don’t frequent very often, but that did have a totally-awesome front-page-of-business-section article on Ubuntu, I’ll go “nytimes” to get the URL.

These are all very basic tricks, and you probably knew most of them, but they’re still pretty useful. And they’re something Chrome can’t do :P


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A Quick and Dirty Post about Two Quick and Dirty Calendars

The entire point of this post is that it’s short, sweet and concise, so I’ll this is all the introduction you’re going to get.

The two fastest ways of getting a calendar are:

Clicking on the time in your taskbar. The current month will pop out, with today highlighted, and you can switch between months and years as you see fit.

Using ‘cal’ in the terminal. This one requires a bit more brain power, but, like most terminal apps, is freakishly efficient. ‘cal’ returns the current month. ‘cal -x’ returns the next x months (obviously you have to replace x with a number form 2 to 11). ‘cal -y’ brings up all 12 months (the year) and ‘cal xxxx’ brings up the year xxxx (1937, or whatever). Too slow? Go to System>Preferences>Keyboard Shortcuts and assign a keybinding to ‘Run a terminal’ (I use Alt-T myself) while you’re there, assign another keybinding to your web browser (I go with Alt-F, for Firefox). Now you can pretty much have an instant terminal…sweet!



I’ll probably get some kind of comment about “Oh, well I use ___ screenlet, which just has a calendar on my desktop” or “Oh, well I used the following hack to get Google Calendar on my desktop.” If that works for you–great. But I for one like my RAM, disk space, performance in general, and not-installing-extra-stuff.


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