Thursday, 30 August 2007


I've just discovered Kblogger, a tool for KDE to enable blogging from the desktop. It's a bit primitive, but I can see myself using it a lot of the time. So, let's see if it works ok...

Update - it doesn't work well with Blogger! So, I'm not going to be able to use it. It doesn't support title entry, so I will stick with using Blogger's own entry system, perhaps with Google Docs as well from time to time.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Arachnophobes, look away now...

I've had a Google Docs and Spreadsheets profile for ages now, and I've decided to use this to write my blog from now on. It seems to have all the same tools as Blogger, but I think it will probably work out to be more convenient, as it's more geared towards being a useful word processor.
Anyway, here's something that happened the other day, that might give you the creeps if (like me) you're an arachnophobe. On Monday, I was drying my hair with a towel and I put my hand just below my right ear. When I took it away, I noticed something looking like a mat of hair (I didn't have my glasses on). I took a closer look, and suddenly saw that it was a spider. I must have jumped about a metre in the air! Believe me, I did not sleep well that night!
Anyway, I really must get some more work done on my web design course. I'm now onto the third chapter, which is about hyperlinks...

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Down to work...

Well, today I made a start on working through the exercise book for my web design course. Like anything of this type, it is harder than it sounds. Also, since I have to do it on the computer, there's the obvious temptation of the whole Internet to distract me, not to mention games, and it's very hard not to procrastinate.
Still, I've got a bit of an advantage. Having played around with Google Page Creator and Nvu, as well as putting the widgets onto this blog means I'm not a complete newcomer to HTML. I've also copied out a couple of lines of HTML to run Java applets.
Speaking of Nvu, I decided to use Kompozer instead. Kompozer is essentially a version of Nvu with a load of bug fixes, and designed specifically for Ubuntu, so I am using that instead for the moment. Effectively it's exactly the same as Nvu except in name and these bug fixes.
I'll keep you abreast of how I do on the course.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Distro blues

Today, I bought the new issue of Linux Magazine. To my delight, the cover DVD this month is Debian Etch. I've been itching to try Debian for a while. Don't get me wrong, I love Kubuntu, but I'm always eager to try new distros, and Debian sounds like a good choice. For one thing, it's very similar to Ubuntu, so the skills I've acquired with Ubuntu will transfer across easily. Also, I have had some problems with getting Ubuntu working on my laptop, and I'm hoping that Debian, with its strong reputation for stability, might be more resilient. The other thing that tempts me is Debian's gargantuan repositories. Apparently, with over 18,000 packages, it has about three times as many available for it as Ubuntu, the distro with the next biggest repository.
I've also been tempted by Slackware a few times, but this would be a huge step into the unknown. For one thing, the Debian package management tools are easy to use, whereas Slackware is much harder.
Ultimately, there's one thing I really want in a Linux distro above all else. I won't consider any distro where I can't get the wireless working. That's very important. I had a look on the Debian Etch DVD and I found Network Manager in there, so it's very likely that I could get wireless working in Etch. I've tried the alphas of Kubuntu Gutsy, and I had a problem with installing anything from the repositories. I reported this as a bug, but I'm not sure they'll be able to do anything about it. If Gutsy does have these kinds of problems with my laptop on final release, I'll have a hard choice to make. If I can't install from the repositories, I can't use that version of the distro, so I'll either have to stick with Feisty (which hasn't been very reliable, I'm afraid to say) or look for a new distro. If I do switch, then Debian is very much at the front of the queue, thanks to its familiarity. It even has a graphic installer these days.
Never mind. Here's hoping they iron the kinks out of Gutsy (please! I love it so far!)

All change again!

Well, my iPod Video finally arrived on Friday, and I'm really pleased with it. I got it scrobbling to my Last.FM profile in no time. Now, all I have to do is spend hours on end ripping all my CD's to it. Still, once I'm finished, my profile will show a truer reflection of my listening habits.
Anyway, sorry it's been a while since my last post (once again!). I've changed my IM client AGAIN! I finally got Kopete working OK, so I'm using that. I don't think it's as good as Pidgin or the Google Talk client. For one thing, both Pidgin and Google Talk tell you when you have a new email in your Googlemail inbox, whereas Kopete doesn't. So, when I change to Kubuntu Gutsy in two months time, I may install Pidgin (assuming Google Talk for Linux doesn't become available in the meantime).
I was also using Kontact for my e-mail for a short while, but I ditched it. As I mentioned previously, I recently decided to stop using Automatix, which I had previously used to install my favourite e-mail client (Thunderbird 2). As the Ubuntu repositories only had Thunderbird 1.5, this left me with a choice - either use Thunderbird 1.5, or a different e-mail client. As it was just as hard to set up Kontact for Googlemail as Thunderbird 1.5, I thought I'd give it a try, but it just wasn't for me. So I decided to install Thunderbird 2 manually.
I'm starting to reach a new level of competence with Linux now. I've passed the point where the command line starts to become easier a couple of months ago, and I'm now quite happy using apt-get and dpkg to install software. I'm now beginning to get more confidence in myself in installing from tarballs as well. I've installed Seamonkey, Thunderbird 2 and NetBeans from tarballs now, and it wasn't hard at all. NetBeans was one of the things I used Automatix for, but I needn't have bothered.
Still, from the sound of things, I won't have to reinstall these three from tarballs when I upgrade to Gutsy. NetBeans appears to be properly available as a deb package for Gutsy, Thunderbird 2 will certainly be in the repository, and so will Iceape, which is a version of Seamonkey. So if I'd waited I wouldn't have had to learn. Never mind, it's still a useful skill to learn.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

IM a message

Instant messaging is something I've only just started to get. You know, MSN, Yahoo! Messenger, that kind of thing. Until today, I'd never once used it.
That changed today. I've had Google Talk since April, when I first started using Google Mail. The trouble was that the Google Talk application didn't work in Vista, and there wasn't one available for Linux. You were supposed to be able to get it working with other clients including Kopete (the official IM client of KDE), but I couldn't get it working at all.
Today I looked at the website and decided to try again on my Vista laptop. I got it working in Pidgin (which was formerly known as Gaim, and is popular in Linux, but also available for Windows). Then I looked and saw that the official client now works in Vista, so I downloaded and installed it. Then, I thought to myself, if I can get it working in Windows, I should be able to get it working in Linux.
So I set about it again. Unfortunately, the version in the Ubuntu repositories was an old version of Gaim, before it became Pidgin, and I found it hard going, but eventually I got it working. I didn't like it as much as Pidgin, so I decided to go looking for a deb package of Pidgin to install.
Surprisingly, I found one! So I uninstalled Gaim, and installed Pidgin in its place, and it works perfectly.
I'd still prefer it if I could use Kopete (as it integrates better with KDE), or even better the Google Talk application (word is that a Linux version is in the pipeline, and I've added Google's Linux repository for Ubuntu so I'll easily be able to download it when it comes), but so far I'm very impressed with Pidgin. It even tells me when I get an e-mail, and with just a few mouse clicks I can go to my Google Mail account and check it.
Now, I just need to find someone to talk to...I've added the Google Talk button to this blog, so feel free to have a chat!

Something I thought I'd share...

I saw this on Digg and I thought "Why warn about this? Who would do this?"


One of the most common preconceptions I've noticed about Linux is that people think it's a very basic, DOS-like environment where you have use the command line for everything, when in fact that couldn't be further from the truth.
I started using Linux in February, trying out a few distros, before eventually settling on Kubuntu when Feisty Fawn was released in April.

To give you an idea just how nice your average Kubuntu desktop is, here is one of my four virtual desktops (I think the background picture is of Mumbai during the monsoon). Nice, isn't it? Not what you expected to see perhaps? Maybe you were thinking it might be a few lines of text. The fact is, these days Linux can easily match Windows in terms of how pretty the desktop is, and it even gives Macs a run for their money. The only reason the command line is used a lot in Linux is that it's a lot better than it's counterpart in Windows. These days it's possible to do virtually anything you want to in Linux without using the command line, it's just generally a lot easier to do it from there.

I think that part of this is due to competition. You see, there are two main desktops available for Linux - GNOME and KDE. I've tried GNOME, and it's a good desktop, resembling the Mac's one, but for me KDE was the winner. Partly because it's laid out similarly to Windows, so it was easy to get used to, but also because it is more configurable, and the native applications for it are more powerful. But with two competing desktops, they're constantly striving to outdo the other. I think this has helped them develop faster than they would have otherwise.

But, believe me, you ain't seen nothing yet. In October, KDE 4 will be released, and so far it looks amazing.
Check this link for a picture. The best part is that it's also going to be available for Windows and Mac, so if you like it, you can have it too! And, it includes Amarok, a music player that beats the crap out of iTunes or Windows Media Player.

Those of you who have Windows Vista may be thinking "Yeah, it looks good, but it doesn't have the fancy effects that Vista has". You wait till you see Compiz Fusion KDE. It blows Vista's GUI out of the water.

Monday, 20 August 2007


I heard a great quote today. Can't remember who it was, but they said "If you want to sound like a creep, just add the word ...ladies to the end of every sentence."
Anyway, today I've been having a bit of a tinker with several HTML editors to find one I liked. I've tried several, including Bluefish, Amaya, and Quanta Plus, none of which quite did it for me.
For a while now, I've had the excellent Nvu (pronounced n-view) HTML editor installed on my Vista laptop. As I hate Vista, I wanted to get a copy for my other laptop. Unfortunately, it's not in the Ubuntu repositories, so I couldn't just download it from there, so I went searching. To my delight, I eventually found a package for Debian Etch that also works in Ubuntu, so I downloaded and installed it, and I couldn't be happier with it.
I daresay that once I've completed my course and start doing this for a living I'll have to use Adobe Dreamweaver at work, but I love Nvu, and if anyone were to ask me for a recommendation as to what software to use to make their website, Nvu would be right at the top of the list. You can switch between modes easily by clicking on a tab, allowing you to add an object by entering HTML, then move it around easily.
Since I first became aware of the whole Free and Open-Source Software movement about a year ago, I've become very keen on it. I really can't stand to see people wasting money on expensive proprietary software when there are very often alternatives available that are just as good, if not better. MS Office is a particular annoyance of mine, especially considering that it's complete crap. I think that is perfectly suitable for most people and is completely free to download.
That's all for today ...ladies.

Sunday, 19 August 2007


Remember on Tuesday I said I was making an effort to blog every day...The best laid plans and all that.
Anyway, yesterday I officially signed up to my web design course. I've got the training book for the first section, so I think I'll have a quick read through of that some time over the next couple of weeks.

I've also done something I've been thinking of doing for a while - I've set up a Facebook profile. So far I'm very impressed with it, but I'm disappointed that I can't put my Last.FM widgets on my profile. Give it a few months and maybe they'll be able to do it. Considering the way Facebook is growing, it has to happen sometime soon.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Giving Automatix the boot

I've got two weeks off work coming up, and nothing much lined up. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to make a start on my HTML course for a few weeks so I can't do any of that, but there's plenty I can do. I've got a couple of books on HTML that I can start going through, so I can give myself a head start. I've also got another few books on things like shell programming, Javascript, etc, so maybe I'll make an effort to get through some of these.

I'm especially keen to learn more about Linux. Since I started using Kubuntu permanently in April (starting with the release of Feisty Fawn), I've been using Automatix to install a lot of software, knowing that eventually I'd have to learn to do them properly. As you might have seen, there has been negative coverage of this, and my experience mirrors this. I have had my OS crash several times while booting, and have had to reinstall. In light of this I decided I wasn't going to use Automatix anymore, and would teach myself to install the software properly.
So far it's going OK. Most of the other things are available from the Ubuntu repositories. I've so far installed the Java Runtime Environment, the Java Development Kit, and codecs and plugins for audio and video so I can play MP3s and DVD's. I'm going to leave the rest for now.

One thing I definitely want to do is catch up on my reading. I want to finish Black Man, and make a start on Peter F Hamilton's The Dreaming Void. I'm a huge fan of Peter's work, and I'm really eager to get started on this.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Career Opportunities

Just a quick post today (I'm making an effort to blog every day).

I recently enquired about doing a computer training course, and the company that does them sent someone to visit me. He gave me an assessment, which I passed with flying colours, and he offered me a place on one of their courses. As a result, I've decided to start studying HTML with a view to eventually getting a job in web design.
Around this time last year I signed up for a secondment to a project within my employer (mainly to get away from a dull job). It's something I've never regretted, as it really got me out of a rut, and meant I made lots of new friends. But I expected that I'd probably be going back once the project finished. Not anymore, though. The area I came from is being outsourced to another company so I can't go back. This means I have no guarantee of having a job in a year's time.
Since September 2006, I've been learning a lot about computers, eventually leading me to adopt Kubuntu as my OS of choice. While Linux is certainly more challenging than Windows, it's also more transparent, and I find that the way it works makes it easy to get into the more technical issues. So it was natural for me to consider the IT sector. I very nearly opted for a Java course, but after much consideration I went instead for HTML.
Having picked the course I wanted to do, yesterday I rang the rep who came to see me and told him I wanted to do the HTML course. It's going to be £100 for the enrolment fee, and the course will cost a total of £1,750. It'll take about a year, assuming I average five hours work a week (it's done by e-mail). But it'll be worth it if I get a better paid job with better prospects. I'm really looking forward to starting this.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 13 August 2007

Hard as nails?

I'm a voracious reader. I usually have two books on the go. One, I read on the train when going to or from work. The other, I read at home.
Generally, I read SF. I'm currently reading Black Man by Richard Morgan at home and Eos's The New Space Opera (a collection of short stories) on the train. I'm struggling a little with the former (what with the demands of an 8-hour working day plus two hours of commuting, plus all the other things wanting my time), but I am really enjoying the latter.
Space opera is a funny thing. The space operas I read when I was younger included such things as Asimov's Foundation Series, and E E Smith's Triplanetary. They showed their pulp-magazine origins, not being especially scientifically rigorous. Space travel was achieved through such literary conventions as hyperspace or warp drive. TV series such as Star Trek continued this.
Now, however, I think it's much more rigorous. Authors such as Peter F Hamilton, Charles Stross, Stephen Baxter and Ken Macleod have used harder science in their work, eschewing or minimising such conventions.

By comparison, an author such as Kevin J Anderson (and I'm not putting his work down, I do think it's quite enjoyable) has not taken such a rigorous route, and I think it's somewhat diminished as a result. Much of his work feels cliched, and sounds like it could have been written any time in the last fifty years or so.
Paradoxically, authors who've limited themselves to the more scientifically plausible seem to have opened up their options and produced much more imaginative work.
Most notably, Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space sequence has managed to produce a powerful and gripping space opera without faster-than-light travel at all. It's also quite a dark universe, and all the better for it. I've also found Stross's Accelerando, which also takes quite a hard-sf stance, to be a fantastically imaginative novel.
With SF, it's easy to imagine a universe without limits, and with that you just don't know where to start. I think that by limiting themselves to the more plausible scenarios, authors set themselves guidelines they can work within, thus enabling them to run much further with them.
If you're not convinced, head on over to Orion's Arm. This is a hard-sf collaborative worldbuilding and creative writing project, and one of the most imaginative things I've ever seen. You could easily spend days going through its pages.
One of the best known hard-sf writers is the venerable Arthur C. Clarke. In the intro to The Songs of Distant Earth, he described the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars as fantasy rather than SF, and I'm inclined to agree. Science fiction is based on science, not literary conventions such as hyperspace, and for me it's at its best when it remembers the science that forms its core.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Google Stars!

Have you seen this? Google are now offering StarOffice as part of Google Pack!
I've been a fan of the suite, having switched to it about a year ago when I bought a PDA and it wouldn't work with Microsoft Works (incidentally pushing me down the open source route that eventually led to me becoming a Linux user). I'm also a fan of Google pack.
I have two laptops, one running Kubuntu, the other Vista (which I hate, but I only use it for things like iTunes and the Sims 2). I already have Google pack installed on the Vista laptop, and will be downloading Star Office for it (I just tried but it wouldn't download, guess the server was busy).
I think this is a good thing, because I know OpenOffice is a good suite, but isn't as well known as MS Office. Since Star Office is essentially OpenOffice with some extra bells and whistles, I know it can probably compete well with MS Office. If a company with a high public profile like Google is offering it, it will very probably be a huge success. I'll certainly be recommending all my friends try it.

No smoking please, we're English

I went out last night to celebrate a colleague's 30th, and when I got home, I was struck by a thought. I don't stink of cigarettes.
As you may know, from 1st July this year, in England it's been illegal to smoke in public places, including pubs, bars, nightclubs etc. As a non-smoker, I was pleased about this, but it hadn't really sunk in until then.
Before, you always knew that if you went out for a drink, you'd have to sit in a smoky room, and it would cling to your skin and your clothes. When you got home, you'd feel horrible and you'd want to have a shower straight away. Now, it's completely gone.
It's also encouraged several people I know to give up. There's quite a few "social smokers" I know, who would only ever smoke when they went out, and now they are cutting down, if not stopping entirely. I think that it'll only be when winter comes that they'll really have to think about quitting, because they'll have to stand out in the cold (unless the pub has a heated shelter).
In unrelated news, I've finally taken the plunge and ordered an 80GB iPod video from Amazon. I didn't like iPods for a long time, but since I started using I've been wishing I had one so I could scrobble tracks I played to my profile. I've had a Sony 20GB MP3 player for a while, and I like it, but the software is rubbish, I can't use it with, and Sony are very keen on their DRM. I bought one of the 2nd generation iPod Shuffles last month and I really like it. Sadly, it won't scrobble to either. Which is why I've now ordered the iPod video.
I'm still not keen on Apple as a company. They do seem to be slightly less evil than Microsoft, but not by much (there's still no iTunes for Linux, and Steve Jobs seems to think that Internet Explorer having 75% of the market, and Safari taking the rest, is a good thing, despite the fact that Firefox knocks the stuffing out of both).
You certainly will never see me buying a Mac. And, now that Dell have started selling PC's with preinstalled Ubuntu in the UK (yippee!) I don't have to pay for a copy of Windows if I buy another computer.
But, still, the iPod is nice. And I am really looking forward to being able to play anything on it and send it to

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Hello Blogosphere!

This is the start of my blog! It's something I've been thinking of doing for a while, and now here it is!

I'm going to be talking about pretty much whatever grabs my attention. Usually this will involve things like Linux (especially Kubuntu, my distro of choice), technology, popular culture, and maybe a bit of politics too.

One of my favourite subjects at the moment is For the uninitiated, it's like a combination of MySpace, a jukebox, and an internet radio station. You can download the player, and it will help you install plugins in programs like iTunes or Windows Media Player. Then, everything you play will be recorded (or scrobbled, as they say in their FAQ) to your profile. They will then provide recommendations for listening, in the form of a My Recommendations radio station.

Once a week, it generates your Neighbours, who are people with similar musical tastes to you. It then provides you with a My Neighbourhood radio station, which shows what your neighbours are listening to.

I highly recommend everyone who is even remotely interested in music of any type give it a go. If you've got an iPod, it can apparently scrobble tracks played on that every time you sync it with iTunes, so you've got no excuse. I only wish I could getting the scrobbling working in Kubuntu with my 2nd generation iPod shuffle.

You can also create widgets to go on your web pages, blogs, MySpace or Facebook profile etc. Examples of two of these, the Album Quilt and the Playlist Player, are shown here on my blog.

There's a lot more to it than that, but I'll leave it to you to discover it all yourselves.

It's free for a basic account. You can also pay a bit for a subscriber account (as I've done) in order to get more services. It's only £1.50 sterling per month at the moment, which I think is a bargain. I'm also pleased that they not only had the player for Linux, they had a .deb package specifically for Ubuntu.

Here's my profile. Feel free to add me to your friend list if you want (I've so far been unable to persuade any of my friends who I actually know in person to sign up, so I look like a bit of a Billy-No-Mates at the moment!)

In the meantime, here's something that a colleague told me about from YouTube (thanks Jo). If (like me) you love the Simpsons, you have to see this...