Archive for the ‘Computers and Software’ Category

Recommended packages for Ubuntu 10.10

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Tier one

Adobe Reader (acroread)
Cheese (installation seems to help when using a webcam)
Chromium web browser
Desktop webmail
Ubuntu Restricted Extras
VirtualBox OSE
VirtualBox OSE guest editions

Tier two
gedit plugins
gedit r-plugin
Gimp data extras
gnome art

Animated gifs using Gimp

Monday, July 5th, 2010

I had never bothered to learn how to make an animated gif before. Using Gimp, it is pretty easy.

However, I´ll have to spend some time learning what works best in terms of delays, etc.

Fête de la musique Genève, June 20, 2010

But, perhaps I should learn how to use png files instead.

The 42k theme, for WordPress

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The site is trying out the 42k WordPress theme. People liked the 42k look quite a bit, at first, but not so much the default settings for the lists and quotes. Turns out the 42k theme has many opportunities to fine tune the theme style settings, so you can easily fix these. Indeed, this is one of the nice features of the 42k theme.

But the 42k theme is also slower to use than other theme we have tried.. Not sure why.

WordPress blogs, dealing with favicons

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

For unrelated reasons, I’m setting up a few new WordPress blogs for people. I’m a bit surprised how at how much of a pain it is to configure the favicon settings in most themes. It would seem to be a pretty common issue to be resolved fairly easily in the theme settings, and not require all sorts of different names and locations for the favion icon, or edit the theme php code.

For many themes, I have to follow these instructions, which require adding something like this:

<link rel="shortcut icon" href="<?php bloginfo('template_directory'); ?>/favicon.ico" />

to the header.php file in a theme. Is this type of complexity really needed?

I am also a bit surprised that more of the themes don’t give you the option to edit a published blog entry from the viewing mode, without having to go into the dashboard first.

The updates of the themes and the plug-ins work very well, and I wish that Drupal could emulate this.

Abiword, AbiCollab

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Abiword slowly improves as a lightweight work processor. In theory, Abiword works on several operating systems, including Windows, several flavors of Linux or Unix, MacOs, BeOs, or something called QNX. Its developers now have a service called AbiCollab, which stores documents in the cloud, and allows collaborative editing. It is a competitor to services like Google Docs, and has the advantage that you can edit the documents offline. What seems unfortunate is that Abiword’s default file form is not ODF, although it can save to about 20 formats, including ODF (.odt) and Office Open XML (.docx), and read from several of them.

Now that Oracle owns Sun, including the team that managed OpenOffice, and has started charging $90 for a plug-in to use ODF files in Microsoft Office, it would be good if projects like Abiword continue to improve, so people don’t feel so depended upon a single company.

Recommended programs to add after a Ubuntu 10.04 installation

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

For my friends and co-workers doing a fresh install of Ubuntu 10.04, these are the programs I would recommend adding:

Tier 1
For me, the first group of additions I would recommend are the following:


  • Ubuntu restricted extras (highly recommended package that adds the fonts and media drivers you will surely want)
  • Adobe Reader (Still the best way to read PDF files)

Recommended Graphics, Multimedia Applications

  • The Gimp: (No longer part of the base installation for Ubuntu)
  • Gimp Data Extras
  • VLC: VLC plays MPEG, MPEG2, MPEG4, DivX, MOV, WMV, QuickTime, mp3, Ogg/Vorbis files, DVDs, VCDs, and multimedia streams from various network sources.

Useful Utilities

  • Gpass (Manage a collection of passwords in an encrypted file, protected by a master-password)
  • grsync (A GTK+ front end to rsync, a backup program)
  • gftp-gtk (for the gFTP program)

Tier 2
These programs, which are available from the Ubuntu repositories, are probably not for everyone, but I find them useful.

  • The Bluefish editor
  • Wine (To run some Windows programs within Linux environment)
  • R (My favorite statistics program)
  • Cheese (Not necessarily a program you will use much, but Cheese often fixes driver problems for webcams)
  • Google Chromium web browser

These programs are available from third parties, and I find them very useful.

  • Skype
  • Picasa: From Google
  • Adobe Air: Installation will be a challenge for some but it is worth it, if just to run Tweetdeck.
  • Tweetdeck: I love this tool to monitor twitter. It requires Adobe Air.

Tier 3

  • Oracle/Sun’s Virtualbox (I use this to run Windows XP, Microsoft Office/2007, and some other Windows programs). It is surprisingly easy to run Windows and Windows application within Ubuntu 10.04 using this program.
  • Shotwell: A way to view your pictures organized by dates, that you can use without changing the underlying directories for the pictures.
  • Abiword: A smaller word processor than OpenOffice.Org.

Dell Vostro v13, with Ubuntu 10.04

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Earlier, I installed Ubuntu 10.04 on a Dell XPS M1530. Now I tried it on a Dell Vostro v13. The installation went well, but there were a couple of issues that needed to be fixed.

One thing that caused problems was libmoon, the unstable version of Moonlight, which is a free Silverlight clone. It crashed Firefox. Removing the package fixed the problem.

A second issue concerned the initial setting for the internal microphone. The default installation found the microphone and the video cam, but it set the microphone on mute. Once I unchecked the mute setting, it worked fine with Skype and other services.

Ubuntu 10.04 on a Dell XPS M1530

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I took the plunge and installed Ubuntu 10.04. I have a Dell XPS M1530, which was running Ubuntu 9.10. The m1530 has the nVidia GeForce 8600 M video card, a very high resolution monitor, a built in webcam, bluetooth, and lots of higher end features.

The Ubuntu upgrade from 9.10 to 10.04 as a mess for me. Firefox would not start. The theme wasn’t working right, etc. So I did a fresh install.

Check list for fresh install

Before doing a fresh install, I try to remember to do the following:

  • Backup up my home directory, including the hidden files. I particularly don’t want to miss my .tomboy and .gpass directories. (After the fresh install, I copy .tomboy and .gpass to my new home directory, and make sure the ownership settings are correct, using the chown command.)
  • Backup my Evolution mail, using the non-intuitive: /File/Backup Settings option, which not only backs up your Evolution mail settings, but also all of your Evolution mail files.
  • Sync my Mozilla weave and Google Chrome settings, and remember how to resync them properly after the refresh install.

The New Installation

For the most part, the fresh install went very smoothly. Most things worked right way, and it does look much better than Ubuntu 9.10.

What did not work?

I could not install any printers. What was the problem? The print service CUPS had not been started. This was not obvious to fix. The old /System/Administration/Services menu had disappeared. So I had to open a terminal and run this command:

sudo service cups start

That fixed the printer problem.

Next, I wanted to deal with the webcam, which was not recognized in the installation. The fix, which I had used in an earlier Ubuntu release, was to install cheese, and to reboot the computer. Now the web cam not only works, it works much better than it did before, at least with cheese and Skype. However, the webcam is not recognized by Camorama.

(On a related note, the internal microphone worked just fine with Skype, without having to fix the settings.)

Additional Software

From the (/System/Administration> Synaptic package manager, I added the following packages:

Ubuntu restricted extras (highly recommended package that adds the fonts and media drivers you will surely want)
Moonlight (a free Silverlight clone, that I deleted, because the unstable version sometimes crashes Firefox)
Gpass (Manage a collection of passwords in an encrypted file, protected by a master-password)
Wine (To run some Windows programs within Linux environment)
Bluefish editor
The Gimp (No longer part of the base installation for Ubuntu)
Gimp Data Extras
gftp (an FTP client)
R (My favorite statistics program)
Adobe Reader
Camorama (did not work)

Separately, I also installed:

Adobe Air
Google’s picasa
Google’s Chrome Browser
Opera’s Brower

Issues with the new software

  • Google’s Chrome browser runs fine, but the Gnome themes do not work the same way for Chrome as for other applications. In Ubuntu 10.04, the windowing buttons are now on the left, except for the Chrome Browser, where they are still on the right.
  • Some of Skype’s menus are dark and hard to read, but you can manage using the cursor.
  • The /System/Preferences/Appearance application does not show you what you will actually see, in some cases.

Is the Upgrade worth it?
I started using Ubuntu regularly in 2006. Every Ubuntu upgrade has been worth it, in my opinion, including this one. But it did take a fair amount of time to get things the way I wanted, and I’m still not sure how some things work.

Some things to like in 10.04

(I imagine some if not all of these worked in earlier versions).

I find the following keyboard short cuts useful:

Super + A – show all open windows in all workspaces
Super + W – show all open windows in current workspaces
Super + E – show all workspaces
Super + N – Change colors in current window
Super + M – Change colors in all windows

Changing a domain name for Drupal 6 installation

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

I’m building a new web site for KEI, using Drupal 6. We created a dummy site on a subdirectory of another domain, and then tested the site to see would happen when we assigned a new domain to the new site built on drupal. Well, the new domain broke everything. The fix involved a single file: sites/default/setting.php.

Find the text starting with: $base_url = ‘http://

and edit it so the new domain is used.

Video on the Web, Linux lags in some areas (or maybe not)

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

I use Ubuntu Linux on my primary laptop, and on several other computers. Half our office now uses Ubuntu, the other half uses MaxOSX as the primary operating system. For many things, I think Ubuntu is now as good or better than anything available in Windows or MacOSX. In other areas, Linux is good enough. One area where Linux seemed to lag is for video. Netflix, rapidly becoming a must have service, does not stream to Linux at all. This is a significant issue for Linux users living in the US, where Netflix streaming is available.

When I first tried Hulu, it worked on Linux, but not as well as it does on Windows. But there was a reason, and I could fix it. (more…)