Efectos Especiales

Ramblings, rants, musings, ideas and observations. Topics include (but are not limited to): programming (especially Python), books, games (especially CCGs and board games), astrology, design, writing, painting, etc.

icon:ubuntu #789 (old comments) The missing application

So far, I am rather happy with Ubuntu.

Being on Linux gives a sense of empowerment that I haven't felt since the DOS days. (Sure, MS-DOS wasn't great, but at least it let you do what you wanted, was fairly transparent, and didn't do all kinds of things behind your back.)

The Gnome interface makes it easy to step in and do common things like simple file management and launching everyday applications like web browsers. It looks polished and doesn't feel clunky. Plus, it's stable (unless you run XMMS with the wrong settings :-).

I still think it takes its minimalism a bit too far, though. For example, it's apparently not possible to add things to the application menu. On top of that, many packages don't add an entry to the menu either. Apparently this was a design decision. Other people noticed this too. Fortunately, there's SMEG, the Simple Menu Editor for Gnome. Written in Python, it lets you edit the menus, which is just what I need. ^_^

(On a side note, I also changed my plans for a future far, far away... rather than getting a $2000 Mac, it's probably better to get a $500 eMachines PC that has comparable performance (and probably more memory and harddisk space), and put Ubuntu on it. I could then use it as a server, CVS/SVN repository, backup machine, etc.)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-31 11:58 */

icon:weird #788 (old comments) What's next after AJAX?

What's next after AJAX? What a dumb question. AZ, of course. emoticon:loveit

(OK, bad joke... but "Ajax" *is* kind of a stupid name for a technology, from a Dutch perspective...)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-27 16:38 */

icon:art #787 (old comments) Wacom Intuos

Someday I'll get me one of these things. I have had my eye on them for a while, but was puzzled as to how they work. Amazon has the answer: "It's easy to use a pen tablet because every point on the tablet has a matching point on the screen. When you move your pen over the tablet the cursor moves in precisely the same way on the screen. Where you touch your pen tip to the tablet is where you click."

It seems awkward, because normally you look at the pen when drawing. But when you think of it, you do something similar when playing games... you don't look at your hands manipulating the controller/mouse/keys/etc, you look at what happens on the screen. It's just a matter of eye-hand coordination. Or so I hope. emoticon:smile

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-26 20:02 */

icon:ubuntu #786 (old comments) Editors

So what does one use to edit (Python) code on Ubuntu? The best I've found so far is gvim... it's familiar, and seems to work pretty well. I also tried both emacs and xemacs, but they look crappy. At least vim looks native, the emacsen do not, for some reason.

I tried my own editor (Charm), but wxPython seems to be sluggish on Gnome... maybe because there are many layers (Wax using wxPython using WxWidgets using GTK... or something like that).

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-25 10:02 */

icon:ubuntu #785 (old comments) Rebound

OK, I reinstalled Ubuntu, and this time things work much better. The package manager doesn't complain about missing packages anymore, for example. Most likely I did something wrong the first time.

And in some cases I just didn't look around well enough. As people pointed out, Gnome *does* have an option to create a new folder. In some cases it's not in the context menu, but it should always be available in the window's menu.

As for the other desktop behavior, I read up on a few things. Like the idea of the icon free desktop: "The second menu, Places, houses entries like Computer, Network Servers, and even 130MB Removable Media (when I plugged in my USB keychain drive). The Places menu makes desktop icons for devices unnecessary; so by default, there are no icons on the Ubuntu desktop. Any icons there will be things you've put there--thus, the desktop becomes a space dedicated to works in progress, as it should be."

More on the trashcan issue: "Icons on the desktop are almost always obscured by windows when you're getting work done, and it's often a pain to move them out of the way or switch to a different workspace to get at them. So, we've turned all of the special desktop icons off, and provided access to them in the Computer menu. No more window tidying when you just want to open your file manager! We've included trashapplet, which provides a working trash icon on your panel, so it's always accessible. In the future, we'd like to make it so that you can delete anything - not just files - by dragging to the trash."

Fair enough. I have more of a problem with the so-called spatial view. (Also see here.) I'm probably Not Getting It, but if I want to go to /home/fred/apps/foo/bar/baz, then by the time I get there, I will have 6 windows open, 5 of which are unnecessary. I can close them of course, but IMHO they shouldn't be open to begin with. Or Ubuntu can close them for me, but that looks like a navigator gone wrong. The "object oriented file manager" idea is nice, I'm just not sure it works in practice. "You'll get used to it", the aforementioned post claims, but people say that about Lisp syntax too. emoticon:puh2

Anyway, this isn't an issue, since Gnome/Nautilus supports "normal" navigation as well, so that's what I'm using now. If you have good arguments why I should give spatial a try, other than "you'll get used to it and eventually you'll be more productive", I'd like to hear about it.

By the way, it's amazing how much time you can waste trying to download and choose desktop themes... emoticon:smile

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-24 16:30 */

icon:ubuntu #784 (old comments) Ubuntu packages (and more)

Ubuntu's package system is nice, but for some reason many packages simply won't show up in my list. Following the instructions about how to add repositories, many of them are (or were) still missing. For example, in order to play mp3s, you need the gstreamer0.8-mad package; but when I marked it for installation, the package manager complained that certain other packages (libid3tag0, etc) were not found. Ditto for e.g. ruby1.8 and xmms. Weird. Repeatedly updating and reloading the package tree didn't help.

Fortunately, there's a way around this. You can get the packages from here. Just download the appropriate .deb file, then install:

sudo dpkg -i some_package.deb

which might fail, if the package depends on other packages, in which case you have to install *those* first. (You'd think it would be useful to have a piece of software that downloads and installs these packages for you, and checks the dependencies... oh wait... emoticon:devilish)

Anyway, I'm probably missing some repository or setting or something, that makes it behave like this. Once everything is installed, the system works great, though... the software just works. In some cases (XMMS, for example), a new menu option is created, so you don't have to look all over the place for any new executables.

In general, it's probably better to stick to the command line for any task that is more complex than just starting an app. Windows gets a bad rep, but it's easy to overlook all the things you become accustomed to and take for granted, until you're suddenly on a different system that doesn't have all these things. Silly little things, like the ability to create a new folder by clicking a button or right-clicking and selecting "New -> Folder". Ubuntu doesn't seem to have that, so for this simple task you have to go to the command line and use mkdir. Trivial if you already used the terminal to begin with, but irritating when you're in a GUI window and expect to do this from a context menu.

That is just one small example, of course. There are quite a few things that you cannot do with the menu. Connecting to the internet, or disconnecting, for example. It's a bit of a paradox... it has this shiny GUI, yet for many things you are forced to use the command line. On top of that, the GUI has some idiosyncracies... why is the trash can a small icon in the task bar, for example? (As opposed to a regular icon on the desktop, which is arguably easier to drag things to.) And why does a window resize when you enter a new folder? And why isn't there a "go to parent folder" button or option? (Instead, there's Alt-Up, which opens an *additional* folder.) And so on. Maybe all these things are configurable, but it's not obvious how to do it.

These are just observations, by the way. I'm not looking for a Windows replacement; at this point, I want to use Ubuntu to learn more about Linux/Unix, and maybe test a Python program or two. It's perfectly suited for that.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-22 23:47 */

icon:default #783 (old comments) In other news...

We will probably be visiting St. Louis, MO somewhere in June.

I wonder what it's like to live there. I've always lived in urban areas (well, at least before I moved to Florida), but nothing like a metropolitan area with 2.6 million people.

Apparently there's also a Python Users Group...

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-22 12:56 */

icon:default #782 (old comments) Comments are back

...for now. I'm using Haloscan again, although I'm not 100% convinced that it will work well, considering my experiences in the past. (Comments started disappearing at random. Probably because I wasn't a premium member. Maybe I should become one...)

I thought about giving pycs.net a try again, until I saw this. Even though the original comment URLs are long gone (and replaced with a static link to "old comments" pages), spambots are still finding their way to them. I'm sure it wouldn't take long before they would discover the new comments, and I doubt that rel="nofollow" is going to stop them. emoticon:sm_eerie

So Haloscan it is. As a bonus, it now has trackback, in case anybody anywhere decides to link to my posts. (Fat chance...)

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-22 11:30 */

icon:ubuntu #781 (old comments) Ubuntu part 2

After yesterday's adventures with the Ubuntu live CD, I decided to try the install CD today. I have a 10 Gb partition that sits around mostly unused... I installed Zeta on it a while ago, mostly for experimental purposes. So, as of today, Zeta is out, and Ubuntu is in.

Again, the resolution showed up as 640x480. Fortunately there's a solution. Setting up the network card and DSL wasn't difficult either. I don't recommend these tasks for complete newbies, though. I'm not a Linux/Unix expert, but at least I know my way around... sort of. I know how to run basic commands, use sudo, edit a file in vim, etc. If you don't, then you're out of luck, because Ubuntu doesn't offer much in the way of configuration help, beyond the bare necessities. For example, where Knoppix has a menu option "Configure DSL" (or something), Ubuntu has nothing.

While I consider the lack of menu options a drawback, others consider it a benefit, though. Russell Beattie: "The last time I tried Knoppix, not only did it not recognized my Netgear 802.11g WiFi card, but it had tons and tons of crap in the menus. Ubuntu is very clean in comparision, with just the fundamental apps like FireFox and OpenOffice just like it should be." To each his own, I guess.

The applications that are available are impressive. Firefox works just like I'm used to on Windows. The fonts look a bit different, but that's about it. It doesn't "feel" unstable like it did on Zeta. Other major apps include OpenOffice, Evolution and The Gimp. And everything looks pretty. emoticon:smile It's superficial, but it's nicer to work in a beautiful environment than in an ugly one.

I have yet to become familiar with the package system. Some things work, some don't. For example, installing wxPython was a breeze (and I also got Wax and Firedrop to work), but attempts to install other packages like TeXmacs resulted in cryptic error messages about dependent packages that could not be installed. Probably because they did not show up in the list at all. How do I get them in the list? Time to RTFM.

Ubuntu doesn't support mp3s out of the box, which is both interesting and annoying at the same time. MP3 is patent-encumbered, so it's understandable that it's not there. On the other hand, requiring the user to jump through hoops just to be able to play music may not be such a good idea.

If nothing else, I can use this to test my software under Unix. (A few days ago, somebody reported a Unix-specific bug in a Wax example, and I wasn't able to inspect it. Now, with wxPython and Wax working on Ubuntu, things may be different.)

This will come in handy too...

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-21 22:14 */

icon:linux #780 Ubuntu vs Knoppix

I decided to give Ubuntu Linux another try... when I experimented with the live CD a while ago, it was terribly slow for some reason.

Well, it still isn't ready for prime time, or maybe *I* am not ready for *it*. First of all, it takes minutes to start up. Then, it gives me a resolution of 640x480, which I cannot change easily (because the configuration screen doesn't show any other resolutions). OK, so I want to go online to look for a solution. No such luck; it has not configured my network card, is very slow when I try to configure it myself, and then has *no* configuration option for DSL.

There are ways around all this... a bit of poking around on the net shows that you can edit xorg.conf to get the resolution right (possibly with the help of the gtf utility), and that sudo pppoeconf might help with the DSL problem. I haven't tried it; I just can't be bothered. I don't really fancy having to fight the system just to get basic things to work.

Am I spoiled? Yes, but compare the Knoppix live CD. It starts up faster, gives me a decent resolution, and DSL configuration is a breeze. In other words, it Just Works.

Let's see what Gnoppix can do. (Strangely, it's based on Ubuntu...?)
Update #1: It appears that Gnoppix *is* Ubuntu. Oh well.
Update #2: There does seem to be a difference, though... this version of Gnoppix (0.9.99b1) starts with resolution 1280x1024. To be fair, setting up the network card and DSL wasn't so difficult.

/* Posted by Hans Nowak at 2005-05-21 00:27 */