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.

Photos printed on a big ol’ canvas? Yes, please.

I’m a big fan of getting photos printed up on big ol’ canvases.  They look really cool and you can have some of your best photography on display – classy display – at your crib/house/cave/whatever.  It’s really good stuff, especially if your photo is pure win (as mine inevitably are).  Thing is, that service is usually pretty expensive unless you do it yourself and even then, it’s still too expensive for the average joker.

At $80, CanvasPop is pretty reasonably priced for the service.  I mean, it’s still a touch on the pricey side, but you are getting a framed piece (and that ain’t cheap.  I used to be a framer, trust me, I know.)  But wait, there’s good news.  Living Social (which I usually ignore, though there are some interesting deals to be had once in a while) is offering $80 credit for $40.  So, half off.  On a 16×20 framed print of your photo (or your favorite photographer’s photo, wink-wink), on canvas.  That is a really reasonable price to get some artwork on the wall.  Plus, they’ll give you a $30 credit towards the next one you do.  Very, very awesome.

Take advantage of it by clicking on the Living Social photo canvas deal here.  It’s only good for another 18 hours, so I recommend hopping on it quick.  This is really a super cool deal, I hope some people take advantage of 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.

The zen of cross-platform… photo editing.

Programming Books at Home, LHS

Image by fogus via Flickr

I remember back when all the Java pundits were screamin’ about cross-platform this, cross-platform that, etc, etc, blah blah blah.  I loved it.  I was one of them.  

I mean, who cares what operating system you’re running, right?  I can run any app on any computer, period.  That’s just awesome… and it’s not even an unreasonable dream.  But that was long ago.
Java still touts cross-platform compatibility and there are many Java apps that work (and work well) across all three of the major OS’s (Windows, OSX, and of course Linux.)  Unfortunately, UI design seems to be… secondary to most Java developers, but that’s another story.  No, today I plan on kicking off a multi-part story about my search – my zen-like search – for cross-platform photo editing.  
As a photographer, I’ve found that Windows and OSX really have some very fine tools at their disposal.  Linux has several tools that do the job, but they’re all difficult to use and have a steep learning curve (not to mention they’re ugly.)  Ugly shouldn’t be a factor, I suppose, but as a designer and someone who spends inordinate amounts of time in front of his computer, I really place no small amount of value on an attractive and easy-to-use UI.  
I’ll be touching on my experiences with Bibble, Lightzone, and (of course) GIMP.  GIMP has been part of my toolbox for some time, so the typical ‘learning curve’ with using it won’t necessarily be as steep as usual, and I’ll try to keep that in mind.
Lightzone is being installed even as I write this, so next up: Lightzone – Good, Bad, or Just Ugly.

Rotting my brain, one pixel at a time.

Benq laptop

Image via Wikipedia

Check out this article in the online version of the NY Times: Hooked on gadgets, and paying a mental price.  

It’s totally true.  I mean, it’s an extreme case of one guy’s complete and utter obsession, a direct result of his reliance on IT to work and entertain himself… but it’s relevant to all of us.  Look at iPhone users (and yes, even Android people too, lol).  How often have you seen two people sitting across from each other, enjoying some hot beverage, and staring at their phones?
Every once in a while someone pipes up and starts with the whole “computers are turning us into antisocial drones” or “our ability to interact socially is being destroyed by technology.”  It’s unfortunately true.  I know plenty of people who are incapable of the most basic levels of successful social interaction simply because they’re spending way too much time sitting in front of a glowing screen… yet they’re super active on Facebook.  Nice.
Keyboard cowboys are familiar to anyone who spends any time on a forum.  People who are ‘brave’ and will say nearly anything, express opinions, and just be social while logged in, but at the end of the day – when confronted – will always balk.  It’s a sad (though sometimes entertaining) phenomenon.  
It even happens to me, and I go out of my way to make sure I interact, to make absolutely sure that I’m attempting to expose myself as much as possible to social stimuli that goes beyond staring at a screen.  I get upset when I’m too disconnected – when I don’t even have my phone to keep my dopamine squirts going.  There’s nothing we can do.  We’ve made this bed, perpetuated this reliance on technology for our stimuli.  Now we gotta lie in it.  Although there is something to going full lo-fi and disappearing into the woods.
An interesting point that this article brings up is the whole angle on multi-tasking and how it’s actually not a good thing.  After years and years (heck, maybe even decades) of having people pound the concept of multi-tasking being a good thing, this is just a breath of fresh air and a reflection on what I’ve been saying for the last 8 years – basically since I started managing teams and really reflecting on the effectiveness of my teams.  Task-switching is the biggest killer of time, right up there with micro-managing pricks.  Multi-tasking is, in essence, its own worst enemy, and it is a concept fully capable of rendering any team completely immobilized by its own ability to handle multiple projects.  
It’s a concept that requires some reflection to really absorb, and should also require some experience (either on the line or more importantly managing the line) in order to really appreciate.  Minimal research into the matter (a la Google) will give you no shortage of interesting information for you to assimilate, and just thinking about it will be, I think, beneficial.  

Clockwork Recovery Image for Android phones

Image representing Android as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Back in the day, oh so long ago, if you wanted to root your phone you’d go ahead and install Cyanogenmod‘s CM Recovery 1.4.  This worked great.  

Then… much later (billions of years, seems like…) there was the Amon Ra recovery image.  I’ve used it on the Nexus One rootings I’ve perpetrated, and it’s both functional and easy to use.  It has lots and lots of awesome features that I have no use for, but hey, whatever works.  And while Amon Ra was reDICKulously painful to install, once installed it made short work of, well, everything.
Modification of Image:Huxley - Mans Place in N...

Image via Wikipedia

And now, evolution has brought us Clockwork Recovery.  Probably.  I don’t really know nor do I much care, because I probably only use a fraction of the power of these recovery images, and it’s mostly just to flash updated ROMs into my phone.  What I do know is that Clockwork is really, really, really easy to install and use.  I mean, like, almost dummy-proof.  By the nature of what it does, it’s not dummy-proof – not by a long shot – but the interface is really simple and 
straightforward, and I very much appreciate the easily installed front-end GUI, available (conveniently enough) from the Android Market, as – wait for it – “ROM manager”.  Not the most creative name, admittedly, but hey, it’s descriptive enough.
I don’t know if there’s any relation between the two, but I see some similarities between Clockwork and my much-beloved CM-Updater (Cyanogenmod’s original GUI for his own recovery app.)  It works, it’s clean, and it’s just pleasant to use.  So far.  I can’t wait for it to eat total shit and brick my phone.  Then I’ll be singing a whole different tune.
Anyway, Cyanogenmod has released a whole spiffy new version of his ROM, sitting pretty at 5.7 and based on the 2.1 kernel of Android, so here I go again ready to beat the holy hell out of my phone’s hardware in my ongoing effort to make it behave like a much faster, much more expensive phone.  That’s love!  Or I’m being a total dumbass.  Usually I can’t tell the difference.  I’ll update with another post once I’m done smashing.

Nexus One data connection not working? No problem.

Android robot logo.

Image via Wikipedia

Jimbo Slice called me last night to let me know his shiny sexy I wanna have one Nexus One, freshly updated with Cyanogenmod by moi, was having a data connection problem.  To put it simply, it just didn’t have a data connection anymore.  Hm.

So I moseyed on over to the “hoffice” and took a gander.  Sure enough, his Nexus One wasn’t seeing the data network.  Phone seemed to work just fine, everything was peachy otherwise… it even connected to WiFi without a hitch.  But no 3G.  Double-hm.
Jimbo, in typical fix-it-with-a-big-stick mode, wanted to rock it, sock it, and just re-flash the sucka with the original Android OS, or an older version of CM, or something.  Whatever it takes to get it working. Cooler heads (mine) of course prevailed, and I figured the issue wasn’t going to be too terribly complicated to wrap up.
Quick research on the matter uncovered a few similar issues but no real fixes, per se.  Before moving much further, I ran into Settings->Wireless & Networks->Mobile networks->Access Point Names.  Here you should see your network’s APN (T-Mobile or whatnot.)
Hitting menu, I reset the APN to factory default.  A few hot minutes later (it does take a little bit, so be patient), bam, data network connectivity restored.  No need to re-flash or re-install anything, good to go, ready to rawk, and all set.  Enjoy!

Polyphasic sleep… naptime is back, baby!


Okay, so anybody who knows me knows that I’m a fan of Sleep.  Anybody who knows me also knows that while I am Sleep’s biggest fan, I never get any.

Enter Polyphasic Sleep! (Cue horns and cymbals…)
So basically polyphasic sleep is an organized system of what I already do: napping in order to break up regular sleep rhythms into smaller periods, which then (potentially) results in longer periods of awakedness.  Sweet!
By regularizing the periods of sleep, the theory is that we can stay awake longer.  I’ve been testing this theory (inadvertently) for decades, and it’s really interesting to read about what military testing and NASA have uncovered about the efficacy of this method.
Basically, government agencies say that it doesn’t work.
It goes against the body’s natural circadian rhythms and, while it can be induced, there is a significant degradation in performance.  Studies show that we can operate on an induced polyphasic schedule and maintain a minimal performance for a time before our bodies start to manifest the signs of severe sleep deprivation.
Uberman Polyphasic Sleep Pie Chart
The very extreme “Uberman” polyphasic sleep chart.
Whoa, well, that’s really great and all, but I know that I’ve been practicing the fine art of polyphasic sleep for ages.  I find it very useful for those bursts of productivity where you absolutely, positively, indubitably must get that project done by such-and-such date.
Afterwards, sure, there’s a crash, but it’s not as bad as you’d think… a full nights’ sleep and it’s back to business as usual.  This method has served me well and, combined with judicious use of caffeine, can result in about a solid week of pretty high levels of performance and focus, followed by a full night of sleep, maybe the following day to ‘rest’ by doing unfocused tasks (what I like to call “leisure activities” or “hobbies”), and that ‘resets’ the clock.  I’ve personally gone through two months of this cycle, back-to-back, before noticing some emotional breakdown and other signs of extended fatigue.
The other thing I noticed is that this only works for focused tasks and projects.  In my experience, the time lost in task-switching is exponentially increased during these periods.  This results in a decreased ability to multi-task “out of project” (though not necessarily within a project, if the tasks are related and can find a tie to other tasks), so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re trying to close out, say, two or three separate projects at a time unless you take into consideration those potential gaps and keep them to a minimum.
I don’t think it’s something that can be kept up to the extreme degrees that many of the proponents claim, for extended periods, but I do think it’s very doable in bursts and can be very effective in adding those ‘extra hours’ to the day that everyone wishes they had.  I am, however, going to take a methodical approach to this and staging my own study.  I mean, it’s not like it’ll require a huge lifestyle change, lol! 🙂

Bring out the GIMP.



Image via Wikipedia

o I keep reading all these great articles about the GNU Image Manipulation Program, commonly referred to as GIMP or “the GIMP”.  Every time I read one of these great articles, I inevitably find the part of the article that says “GIMP has improved muchly since the last version, and blah blah blah” so (equally as inevitable) I install it (again) and try it (again) and fail (again) to accomplish… well, to accomplish anything at all.

GIMP, for the uninitiated or those that aren’t nerdy enough to know, is (as the name states) an image manipulation program.  While the developers of GIMP don’t see it this way (or at least claim not to, though I can’t for the life of me figure out how they couldn’t see it), it is, basically, an “open-source” Photoshop.  It has become the de facto standard for image manipulation for open-source pundits and those that can’t afford a license of Photoshop.  It’s pretty much the only option for Linux users.  
Anyway, GIMP has ups and downs and all-arounds, and it is incessantly compared to Photoshop (of course).  It has a very similar… very similar… toolset to Photoshop, though it’s all in different places and (in some cases) you arrive to the same tool/process/whatever in what many consider (me among them) a seriously backwards way.  It’s almost like the GIMP developers want to be different from Photoshop at any cost, even if their UI suffers for it.
And so, GIMP has had many, many opportunities to impress me, all of which have failed.  I found it frustrating, slow to use (although admittedly it’s a very fast little app – much lighter than Photoshop), and a pain in the butt overall.  All this is only compounded by the fact that there’s just no cohesive documentation – it’s all scattered around and overly complicated.
Well, no longer.  Behold!  GIMP has a spiffy manual!  And it’s not half bad!  It’s not super comprehensive, but it definitely helps a long-time, heavily ingrained Photoshop user migrate a little more efficiently.  How efficiently?  Enough that I’m using GIMP quite often now.  And you know what?  It’s not as bad as I originally though.  There’s really have been countless improvements to the interface, the speed is excellent, the toolset is equal to (in most cases) Photoshop’s, and it works great on crappy old computers.  This is extra relevant to me now that I have to rely on an older laptop running Ubuntu.
I still go to Photoshop when I need something done and I don’t want to deal with a learning curve, but I think that’s just a matter of time.  Also, there’s no simple alternative to Lightroom, so as a photographer I’ll most likely stick with the LR->PS dynamic duo (although Bibble Labs’ offering is looking pretty spiffy… might be worth a serious look.)  GIMP is getting there though, it really is.  It’s no longer “the alternative you get when you can’t afford Photoshop because Adobe charges ridiculous money for their apps”, but quite a viable app on its own.  I am, this time, finally, impressed.
I just read an article that the first thing GIMP should change is the name.  I have to agree with that: GIMP was cute back in the “Linux is only used by less than 1% of the population of the universe” days.  The burgeoning popularity of Linux as an OS, and even GIMP as an app (it’s available on all platforms), makes me wonder if GIMP is all that marketable.  Then again, it’s recognizable, kinda catchy, and you can always say… 
Bring out the GIMP!
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