When you just gotta go back to Windows…

Sometimes… and it’s a rare case, I know… you just gotta go back to Windows.  It’s an unfortunate state of affairs and it’s never, ever easy, but it just happens.  When such a situation arises, it’s best to just accept it, make it happen, and just move forward.

This week I had to make my little HP laptop run Windows again.  Jackie needed a laptop for school and this little machine has been collecting dust for months.  Granted, I’d just gotten Arch Linux running on it (and what an adventure that was!), but it’s okay – it’s a backup laptop anyway.  FAU’s online learning portals work best in Windows, all the classes require things in MSO formats, blah blah blah… groan.  Long story short, I dug up my old Vista DVD, my Win7 upgrade, and went at it.

The problem arose when I realized that during my foray into Arch, I had converted my hard drive partitions to GPT.  Not sure what GPT is?  It’s a “modern partitioning system.”  Here, read up on it.  Meanwhile, WIndows Vista won’t use GPT-partitioned hard drives for installation.  In fact, apparently this is a common enough problem for people who bounce back and forth between Linux and Windows, so I’m gonna jot down a few notes on how I did it, and maybe it’ll be useful to someone.

So began the process of attempting to convert a GPT hard drive back to MBR.  Here’s an excellent article by Rod Smith about the process of converting a hard drive to or from GPT.  It’s a little confusing, but not too painful.  There’s a lot of information there, it’s good to know, and it may be useful in a broader sense.

That being said, though, while sifting through that article I ran into this article that was absolutely crystal clear on what I was trying to accomplish: converting a GPT hard drive to MBR using gdisk. Gdisk ain’t exactly for the faint of heart, and it doesn’t have a fancy interface or windows or hand-holding or… pretty much anything.  That article is about as clear, concise, and step-by-step as it gets.  Turns out the process is actually pretty darned simple, if you just know the commands and which app to use.  Oh, and I used my Arch Linux USB key to go command-line and gitterdun.  Very nerdy.  Any Linux distro on a USB will do the job though.

Once that was done I looked at my USB key and thought to myself “…but isn’t there a way to install Windows 7 via USB key?” followed by “I have the license, why don’t those bastiches at Micro$oft allow me to download the software?” followed by “I wonder if they do, and I just don’t know it.”  My findings:

  • They don’t allow you to ‘just download’ the software in ISO form.  You gotta buy the software from them, pretty much any way you plan to get it.  That being said, there are… unofficial channels.  Whether they’re legal or not perhaps falls into a ‘grey area’, but like I said: if you have a valid license then it should be all good. Remember that you are, essentially, paying for the license.  And yes, you should, essentially, be allowed to download the software if you have a valid license.  Pretty much every other software developer in the universe does it that way.  Bastiches. Here’s a link to one location where you could download Windows 7 in ISO format.
  • Yes, Windows 7 can indeed be installed via USB key.  You need a Windows machine to set up the USB key and ISO correctly (there’s a little app you can install that comes direct from Micro$oft).  Again, you’ll need a Windows machine to make it work.  Also, a USB key bigger than 4GB which, these days, should almost be a given.

Once you’ve installed the little Windows app, it works similarly (though far more simplistically) to unetbootin or any other USB/ISO app.  Just point it to where you stored the downloaded ISO of Win7 and let it fly.  Takes a little while, so be patient.

At this point, I just inserted the USB key into the laptop, flipped it on, hit the appropriate keys to get it to boot from USB and voila.  Very, very fast installation, incidentally – much faster than the DVD.  I made dinner (a pork tenderloin in mojo marinade and peaches dish… very tasty) and by the end of dinner all was running like a top.  Even most of the drivers were already installed.  I feel like it deserves a Borat-style “Very nice!”

Osprey packs pack a lotta features, and great support

I was given an Osprey Raptor 10 for Christmas – a small, light pack that is nearly perfect for cycling.  It’s a well built unit that does exactly what it’s supposed to.  Even better, Osprey has unparalleled support.  While maintaining the bite valve on the Raptor 10, I noticed that one of the internal parts had broken.  A quick visit to the Osprey website led me to this page: http://www.ospreypacks.com/en/forms/parts_request

Osprey will replace broken parts, fo’ free!  That’s just awesome.  I’m impressed, and while I’ve always recommended Osprey packs to friends and family, this is just one more great point I can add to an already superior product.

Two must-have Firefox extensions with Gnome Shell

Okay, maybe “must-have” is a little strong. How about “works great with” or… “I really like.” Anyway, they’re really great extensions that don’t chew up a ton of memory and are (in my oh-so-humble opinion) very much A Good Thing.

But first, a little preamble. After several fairly smooth months of running Ubuntu and appreciating all the good things that came with that experience, I finally got sick of the troubles behind running Ubuntu with Gnome Shell. Why would I want to run Gnome Shell? Because though Unity has some really neat stuff going on, and as an interface I think it’s just great for some folks, I firmly believe that Gnome Shell is just amazing and only getting better. Unfortunately, I’ve run into a ton of problems running Gnome Shell in Ubuntu (it just doesn’t want to play well with Unity), and it got real frustrating real fast. So I looked to Fedora (again – I hop a lot between the two distros) to give me that plain-vanilla ‘pure’ Gnome Shell experience.

A few false starts and a whole lotta hammering later (especially on my laptop), and Fedora has proven to be everything Ubuntu is and then some. Very cutting edge, very fast, memory use is well behaved, YUM and RPM is excellent… I’m impressed. And the Gnome Shell experience has not disappointed (though I know and appreciate that not everyone agrees with me on that).

Gnome Shell’s got a great interface that is constantly improving and I can appreciate the directions it’s going. Unfortunately, not all the apps are quite there yet, and Firefox is among them. When maximized, Firefox still has this annoying titlebar in place (resulting in a kind of ‘double-titlebar’ that eats up vertical real estate and just irks my sensibilities.) Easily solved with the first of my suggested extensions:


PLEASE NOTE: Don’t use this extension with any other desktop environment!  This is only intended for Gnome Shell!

Anyway, once the extension is installed you can maximize the window and voila!  It works similarly to Chrome, maximizing real estate and looking just great.  Now, you could do this by simply hitting the F11 key and going “fullscreen”, and that’s a legit solution for when I’m concentrating on one particular page.  Thing is, when I’m ‘working’ (yeah, I single-quoted that) I often keep a bunch of tabs open and just like to have the top bar in place, so this extension is a happy solution for my needs.

The second extension is a pretty simple thing – it just makes the window look a little more “Gnomish”, specifically Adwaita.  Personally I think it looks great (better than the default, for sure) and it looks nicely integrated into the rest of the environment.  Here’s a link:


Again, this is just aesthetic, but it makes a difference to me as far the whole ‘user experience.’   Feels a lot nicer and just less obtrusive.

As with anything in this world, YMMV.  Try it out, and if you don’t like it, knock it out.  As to why I’m using Firefox instead of my usual love, Chrome, well… that’s a tale for another day.

Watching Amazon Instant Video on Fedora 18

Here’s a great link to an article that will show you how to add support for Amazon’s Instant Video services to Fedora 18.  It has to do with the deprecated HAL extensions and Amazon’s adoption of DRM in their player.  All fine and dandy, but kind of a pain to get into play unless you follow this very, very convenient and quick tutorial: http://markladoux.com/2013/01/24/amazon-instant-video-on-fedora-core-18/

So yeah it’s been a while… months and months and no signs of life.  Been a little busy, but yeah, I’m back.  /cheer! 😉

Back to Ubuntu with Precise Pangolin, GIMP 2.8 (FTW!), Corel AfterShot, and adding expose-style functionality to Unity

So I keep flip-flopping back and forth between Fedora and Ubuntu.  I can’t help it though, because Fedora is *soooo* darned attractive with Gnome Shell (Gnome 3, whatever) and it has the most amazingly frequent release schedule, yet Ubuntu has all that support, just-works functionality, Google is filled to the brim with articles on how to make something work on Ubuntu, and hey, to be honest, it’s definitely the smoothest linux experience.  Ubuntu’s latest, Precise Pangolin, is no exception.  It’s smooth, it’s fast, it works, and I don’t have to hammer at it until mp3s play, or worry about some jacktard geek’s interpretation of ‘free as in beer’, or their moral standards.  At the end of the day, you’re still getting a linux experience, all the power and flexibility (if you want/need it), and out-of-the-box it’s just a whole lot less of a headache.  Nuff said.

So I installed Ubuntu 12.04 on my laptop, it runs great and smooth, and it really, truly just works.  I haven’t even installed the latest Gnome Shell, I’ve just been using Unity and frankly, I really really like it.  It’s fast to work with, it’s pretty well thought out, and only takes a slight learning curve to get accustomed to.  I still think Gnome Shell is a superior UI, but I definitely see the appeal of Unity and will continue to give it a fair shake.

The guys and gals at GIMP have given us GIMP 2.8.  Oh man, is it ever a worthy update.  Single-window view (awesome!), lots and lots of speed and performance improvements, text editing has been (finally) reworked and is now usable.  There’s so much to love about it.  Can I give up Adobe’s Photoshop?  Well… no, not yet.  Possibly not ever, unless Adobe decides to wait 5 years between updates.  Still, I find that GIMP does most anything I need it to do, especially in a pinch, so maybe.  If you’re on Ubuntu, you’ll need a few special instructions (and a PPA) to get 2.8 properly installed.  Click here for more information on installing GIMP 2.8 on Ubuntu.

Either way, head over there and download it today.  It’s available for Windows too, so if you’re a photochopper or just a graphics guy, and you’re not one of those rabid tool-specific kids that tattoos the Adobe logo on their arm, give it a shot.  You probably won’t regret it too much.

Corel bought out Bibble.  Then they took Bibble’s Lightroom-esque app, rebranded it, fixed up the interface (a LOT) and released it as AfterShot.  It’s effin’ awesome – I like it a lot, especially for the price.  This is worth checking out (a 30-day trial is available) if you’re a photographer and you’ve been looking for an alternative to Lightroom.  I mean, I have no idea why you’d be looking for an alternative to Lightroom (it’s really that good) but if you’re a photographer using Linux (for some reason), or trying to wean yourself off of Windows (for myriad good reasons), you don’t even have Lightroom available to you.  AfterShot is definitely, *definitely* the droid you’re looking for.  Forget all the other pretenders, and just pony up the $60, it’s worth it.  Try it out before you buy and see for yourself.

Finally, here’s a little trick for Ubuntu that I ran across (for Unity, at least).  If you’re like me, you pine for the days when you used to have a Mac, and dream about the day when you can finally afford another one.  Until that day, we just hack and beat on whatever we’re currently using in an effort to make it more mac-like.  Expose (yes, I know I’m missing the accent) is an unbelievably useful tool that you didn’t know you loved until you didn’t have it anymore, and then constantly try to activate.  Well, if you’re using Unity, here’s a link with step-by-step instructions on how to activate expose-ish functionality in Unity, via Compiz.  It’s neat, it works, it’s fast, and it doesn’t cost anything.  Is it Expose?  Not quite, but it’s close enough.


Tasty, tasty Ice Cream Sandwich on my Samsung Vibrant…

So there’s a lot of buzz about ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich), the latest and greatest of the Androids, successor to the inimitable Gingerbread (Honeycomb being primarily for tablets, from what I’ve come to understand…)  Anyway, I was just happy to be running Cyanogenmod 7 (finally) on my Vibrant (also known as the Samsung Galaxy S) and puttering along quite happily, occasionally upgrading to a new CM7 nightly.

That all ended rather abruptly with Cyanogen announcing that he (and his team) were going to concentrate on pushing development for ICS.  I wasn’t too worried about it – I could’ve been perfectly happy with a solid CM7 installation until I upgrade my phone someday.  But the last nightly from the CM7 team was buggy, crappy, slow, and drained my battery like a 2 dollar hooker during fleet week.

I figured someone somewhere probably had a vanilla Gingerbread AOSP build for the Vibrant, so I popped over to the XDA forums to see what I could cram into it.  Something functional, yet basic.  I don’t go for the whole MIUI thing… and not just because I’m a UI snob; it’s just messy.

Well, lo and behold!  Apparently some kind developers have actually taken the new ICS release and compiled a beta ROM for the Vibrant.  I shoehorned that sumbitch right into my phone and followed all the instructions… and….. it sort of works.  Everything was shiny and new… and freakishly fast.  Very smooth, very attractive.  I’m very impressed with everything.  Except the phone doesn’t work.  Neither does GPS, but that’s hardly an issue since I’d resigned myself to never being able to use the GPS (as I’m sure every other Vibrant user in the world has done the same.)  I had to install the framework update (same page on XDA developers dot com, just a little bit below the V5 link) and everything’s working just great.  Except the GPS.  But who the hell cares about that anyway.

So: Ice Cream Sandwich!  I’ll post some thoughts about it once I’ve had a few hours to mess with it.  So far though, it’s worth looking into upgrading.  Muy bueno!

Installing GIMP 2.7.x on Fedora

GIMP 2.7 is faaaan-tastic.  Huge leap forward, I really can’t wait for 2.8.  Sure it’s a little buggy here and there but the overall experience is great.  And it’s got single-window mode, a feature that I’m a big fan of.

So you’ve got Fedora and you want to install GIMP 2.7?  You gotta hunt around in Google a bit to get this info, so I decided I’d just compile it into one post cuz I’m like, nice or something.

First: Go to /usr/etc/yum.repos.d/

Type in:

sudo wget http://repos.fedorapeople.org/repos/luya/gimp/fedora-gimp.repo

If you don’t have wget installed, don’t worry: the shell will ask you if you’d like to install it so you can use it.  So considerate and friendly!  I remember when Linux used to yell at you for using unknown commands.  “Stupid noob! Why would you type that command?  I clearly don’t undersand it!”

Anyway, say yes.  Then try it again.  It’ll output some lines and tell you how successful it was.

Fire up Add/Remove and type in GIMP.  Select it for installation.  Alternatively you could also just type in (because hey, you’re already typing, might as well do it all):

sudo yum install gimp

Once done, fire up the GIMP and bask in the glory.  But wait, it’s still the same old GIMP!  Go to Windows->Single Window Mode.  Hooray for SWM!  It’s so fancy!  So clean!  So much less of a pain in the ass to use!  I actually kind of enjoy beating my head against GIMP now while I continue to struggle with it in my efforts to replace Photoshop.  It really is so many steps closer.

Hope this helps someone, someday.

Okay, back to work.



Ubuntu eats it, Debian makes it worse, and Fedora saves the day.

Ubuntu… Linux for noobs, yet a pleasant Linux experience nonetheless.  Friendly, happy to see you, it practically makes you coffee in the morning.  And for some reason, it always craps out whenever a new ‘version’ is about to come out.  As I read in another article recently, I’m not in Fanboy mode, I’m in User mode, and I need this laptop to ‘just work’.  Every time a new version of Ubuntu rears its head (11.10 being the upcoming beastie) I go through my updates and something inevitably buys the farm.  Painful?  Yeah, kinda.  It’s definitely a headache.

That being said, Ubuntu does provide one of the fastest, easiest, most painless entries into the world of Linux that I’ve experienced.  I’m impressed by it.  But I digress.

So an hour into the rubbing my ears and reminding myself that I really do *not* want to kick my laptop into component parts, I’m wondering why my hitherto oh-so-stable Ubuntu installation is now throwing up all kinds of errors, windows, and irritating artifacts.  Hours of research later, and I say screw it, I’m putting another distro on.  I’m a fan of apt and there’s an awful lot of support out there for it, so I decide to give Debian a try.  Ubuntu’s based on Debian, Debian’s been around since the dawn of man, and it’s all good.  Right?  Nope.  Debian effing sucks.  It has the old-ass POS gnome interface, nothing seems to work well on that either, and I was getting more and more frustrated.  I figured I could just change the interface to the new Gnome 3 (my favorite environment these days, though Unity does a great job too) and voila, I’d hammer out the details later.

But no, apparently I can’t do that.  Debian doesn’t support Gnome 3.  It’s much too awesome.

Okay, fair enough.  I give up on all these newfangled whateversauces and pull out my fancy Fedora 15 live disk, install it in like, 5 minutes, and I’m up and running again.  Yum is pretty much the same as apt, rpms just work, the shell is magical (though that’s nothing specific to Fedora), and Gnome 3 makes my heart skip beats.  I even have GIMP 2.7 running in single-window mode.

I hate all this distro-hopping. Back to work.

Fedora 15 vs Ubuntu 11.04 (Nappy Narwhal)

Yes, I know it’s Natty Narwhal.  I just prefer to call it Nappy Narwhal.  It makes me smile.  But enough about that… what I’m here to rant about is the latest EPIC RAP BATTLE between the two giants of the Linux world, the distributions with more rhymes than a father’s got psalms, Fedora vs Ubuntu!

Yeah, it’s a topic that has been discussed before.  To death.  But I think it’s time someone puts it in layman’s terms, because I read countless articles about it and frankly, I got a ton of “it’s all the same” crap.  And it’s not.  Not really.

I mean, deep down, I used to think “hey, they’re all the same at the core, it’s really just choosing a desktop environment”, which is incredibly, utterly wrong, because you can put any desktop environment (DE) you want on (almost) any distribution.  That’s kind of one of the neato things about Linux.  So if you’re traipsing through the interwebs and you run into (gasp!) a screenshot and a writeup of the super-secret Hobbit desktop environment, you’re not stuck with the desktop your distribution came with.  Sounds pretty simple and cool, right?  It is.  And apparently most people don’t know that.

But I digress.  I want to jot down a few notes between Fedora and Ubuntu.  Ready?  Here goes: Skip Fedora and use Ubuntu.  Done.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say.  Hold on, now, you say.  You’re totally crazy, you say.  Am I?  Yes.  But I’ve now had several experiences with both and am firmly convinced that if you’re into a smooth, unsullied Linux experience, Fedora is quite simply *not* the way forward.  It’s buggy, the system-update system doesn’t work right (ever), YUM is broken half the time, it’s a pain in the butt (and that’s putting it mildly) to properly install even the most basic stuff (like, for example, Google Chrome).  On the plus side, it’s fast, sure… but I don’t think it’s any faster than Ubuntu running the same DE.

“Oh, but Ubuntu has that crappy Unity interface,” you say, “and I hate Unity.  I really like Gnome 3.”  Roll on back a few paragraphs and experience the wonder of my words, where I tell you that not only is it possible to roll-your-own desktop environment… it’s a feature.  So you don’t like Unity, that’s fine.  You have no taste and can’t appreciate what I believe will become the de-facto Linux desktop experience.  Switch to Gnome 3.  Keep all the smoothness and support of Ubuntu.  It’s a win-win.

Just as an aside, I prefer Gnome 3 to Unity as well.  However, there’s no denying they’re very similar in approach and I can appreciate the ease of the Unity interface – it just needs polish, but it’s extremely mac-like and easy to get into.  Gnome 3 also needs polish, but I just like the way it ‘does’ things better… especially the workspaces thing, that’s just cool (a feature people have been bitching about since its inception.)  Anyway, try ’em both and see how *you* feel about it.

I just closed my eyes and did it. And glad I did.

I did it.  I swapped my entire blog over to WordPress from the Movable Type engine.  I made the switch, and I’m glad I did.

I know I’ve been threatening to do it for ages – heck, years – but I’ve always run into some obstacle or another that prevented me from getting busy.  Laziness, lack of time, technical reasons, or simply no reason to switch at all… every time I’ve tried to start the process I’ve backed down.  Until now.

I just closed my eyes and went to work.  The best part of all: it was freakin’ easy.  Really easy.  And painless.  The end result? Great speed, accessibility, efficiency, a great working interface, the templating engine is easy to work with, the plugin architecture is fantastic, well developed, and chock full of plugins… I mean, I could go on and on.  And maybe I will, once I have more time, but for now I’ll just say this: Drop that clunky Movable Type site and get into a modern, fast, better implemented WordPress installation.  You’ll be glad you did.