Archive for January, 2007

Enough With The Insane Beryl Demos Already!!

January 31, 2007

It’s no secret that I run Linux. More specifically I run Ubuntu 6.10 and use Beryl. I’m quite happy and satisfied with it.

Now since Vista has launched, can somebody point me to a good demo video touting it’s interface features? While you’re at it, please provide a link to a good video demo of the OS-X desktop.

W-w-what the hell? – you might ask. Why would I ask for these things?

I’ll tell you why. I believe that Beryl and Linux can provide at least the equal of the visual desktop experience of Vista or OS-X (and with much lower hardware requirements). Compiz and Beryl have come so far so quickly in their development that it’s hard to imagine they won’t surpass the capabilities of the other two in fairly short order. But here’s the rub:

Almost every Beryl demo I’ve seen cited on Digg and other sites has been a mish-mash of anime wallpaper, speedmetal and hyperfast cube-spinning and window switching. I’d like to be able to show a co-worker or friend a well produced demo of the actual practical capabilites of the Linux+Compiz/Beryl desktop without resorting to the goth-wallpapered, death-metal soundtrack demos I see all over the place.

What better way to convert would-be Vista or OSX users than by offering real-world high production value demonstrations similar to those produced in their own camps. Let’s make the demos match them not only in capabilities, but in taste and style as well. It’s hard to argue when you can demonstrate the same functionality.

Burning menus down in flames or exploding title bars might be neat, but they don’t exactly bolster the argument for our side.

Anybody got any OS-X or Vista demos they care to hold up as shining examples of what a desktop OS should be?

Or of course, if you can point me to a Beryl or Compiz video that already does this, all the better.

Snap Previews or How To Annoy Your Readers

January 31, 2007

The relatively recent advent of the Snap Preview plugin seems to be annoying just about everyone. Although it does have its defenders.

You can immediately chalk me up as hating them. It’s almost as annoying as those double-underlined thingys that are annoyingly prevalent on some sites (like which pop up adds when you hover on them. (what are they called anyway?)

As an aside, I haven’t been linking nearly enough in my posts as of late. Expect to see more links here in the future. None of them Snap Previews and none of them double-underlined either.

Underwhelmed But Happy About It

January 31, 2007

Earl Moore is underwhelmed by the relatively quiet launch of Vista. Actually I haven’t been paying much attention to Vista simply because I’m almost well and truly Linux-ized (is there actually a term for that? – there should be..)

However I did know about it since I caught 5 minutes of CNN this morning where Miles O’Brien talked a bit about it, showing an interview clip with Bill Gates and discussing it very briefly with their financial guy. I shook my head a little and chuckled when Miles ended the segment by stating that a lot of people were saying that Vista brought the Windows desktop experience up to OS-X standards and perhaps more importantly ended off with the comment that people could upgrade to Vista or “just get a Mac”. I betcha Microsoft PR was just gleeful hearing that comment this morning. 😉

I also had a couple of co-workers discussing Vista with me today. Of course I took the opportunity to nod repeatedly – yes it looks quite flashy… yes it supposedly requires lots more hardware power… yes it supposedly really cracks down on pirated applications and media.. ever heard of Linux?… I actually run it at home…yes it is actually free…

The impression I get is that while Vista will be no outright failure (it’ll be installed on virtually every PC you buy) there are more and more Linux and Mac types who will have more and more conversations with their non-techie co-workers and friends just suggesting (not pushing it down their throats) that there *are* alternatives out there. My feeling is that while MS is not ceding it’s king of the hill status any time soon, the earth is slowly eroding under their feet. It may take a long while, but I think it is happening right now.

Combine all those water cooler conversations with the fact that the OS itself might be of diminishing importance as more and more services reside on the net irrespective of OS. The resurgence of gaming consoles at the expense of PC-based gaming also makes switching from Windows to something else significantly easier.

The fact that the launch didn’t seem to generate much fanfare only bodes well for the future in my mind. It would be nice to see some real market competition in OS’s again.

Some Cross-Border Observations

January 30, 2007

Back from the annual trek down to Myrtle Beach. As you can see from the photo above, we didn’t let the mid-50F weather hinder us too much. It’s going down to a balmy 5F here tonight, so you can see how to us, mid-50’s was A-ok.

It was kinda funny sitting on the beach barefoot, making a couple of sandcastles, my daughter running knee-deep into the icy Atlantic to get water. All the while, people were trudging by with heavier coats (some even wearing winter hats!) giving a polite smile to the two lone crazies on the beach.

At the risk of generalizing far too much, here’s a quick, completely un-researched set of observations (some serious and some silly) I made about the U.S. while I was down there this week. Hopefully it might generate some comment, and hopefully not any harsh feelings. Take these with a grain of salt, and of course preface just about everything with ‘in the small part of the US that we were in…’

In no particular order:

1. You seem to have pre-pay for gas everywhere that we went. I never seem to have to do this up here. Although I don’t frequent downtown Toronto gas stations that often, I don’t ever remember having to pay before I pump (unless it’s via debit/credit card at the pump).

2. Southern hospitality is definitely not a myth. The hotel, airport and restaurant staff we dealt with seemed significantly more friendly and helpful than they are around here.

3. Maybe it’s just me, but it always seems like the US is lacking in middle class. There seem to be a lot of people with large cars, large homes and money to burn, and a lot of people with very little. Homes seem either huge and pretty or small and decrepit. A lot of people at each end of the scale and not so many in-between. Up here it seems like there are a lot more people “in-between”.

4. There are a lot of abandoned buildings and malls. Stores move to new locations and the old malls remain partially empty or completely abandoned. This seems more prevalent in Western NY, but I saw the same thing in Myrtle Beach. In southern Ontario old buildings get torn down and replaced, they’re not just left to sit. I’m not sure why this is so. Maybe it’s the real estate laws, or maybe something else.

5. People in the states seem to eat out at restaurants *a lot*. In Cheektowaga I was mystified as to why the IHOP was full of people at 9pm. Granted Myrtle Beach is a bit skewed as it is full of tourist-types, but even the smallest, greasiest looking places seem to be doing a brisk business on week nights.

6. Portions in US restaurants are huge compared to those here. My in-laws love this since they are all about the portion vs. cost relationship. I won’t lie. My belly loves this also. But when you order a plate of spaghetti from the kid’s menu you get a full size heap of pasta along with a huge side of fries. My daughter is currently in veggie rehab since arriving back. It does seem like you’re getting ripped off when you get back here. 😉

7. Quality fruits and veggies seem in short supply in the grocery stores. And the stuff they do have is significantly more expensive than it is here. I noticed this in Western NY as well as down south. Maybe something to do with the freeze in California?

8. This is weird, but I noticed a lot of people buying food in gas bar/convenience stores. To me it is strange to see a guy perusing the hot cashews or hotdog rollers in a gas bar. I had to line up behind 6 people at a convenience store when buying some milk. Four of those six people were buying food to eat (Little Debbie cakes, microwaved sandwiches and the like). Our gas bars have a small refrigerated section holding microwavable sandwiches, but I’ve never in the past ten years actually seen anyone buying or eating them.

9. Gospel shows and Evangelicals seem to clog the Sunday morning cable channels. While we have our fair share of evangelicals on Sunday mornings, you definitely see and notice how religion seems to play a much more prominent role in the US. The alternatives seemed to be infomercials out the wazoo. It was either finding God, getting ripped abs, or running whole meals through a juicer!

Americans and Canadians share so much culture that it’s hard to believe you could ever tell the difference. It’s actually quite surprising that there are any differences at all, but there are.

Have I generalized too much, have I got it all wrong? Please educate me.

Rawstudio, partitioning, screencasts and more!

January 19, 2007

In the midst of fending off pre-vacation work overload a few bits and bobs have been occupying my spare time. Think of this as my pre-vacation brain dump:

Another call to my ISP confirmed that they had already sent me a replacement DSL modem. It arrived this past Wednesday, was installed that evening and seems to have cured all that ails me in the connectivity department.

I’ve also been learning a little about partitioning in Linux. I’ve shrunk my ntfs partition and created a separate 60GB partition for my photos. It took a little doing, but with a little (ok..a lot of) help with the great people on I managed to get it accomplished and learned something in the process.

I’ve also joined the Ubuntu screencasts team (at the behest of Will Simpson) to see if I can contribute something to the community there. We’ll see if I ever get the time (and the USB mic), but hey, I’m always up for a challenge.

Another thing worthy of noting is that Rawstudio is *really* coming along nicely. This is a free and open source app that handles RAW image conversion for Linux. The latest patches have implemented batch processing – something Rawstudio users have been waiting for a long time. Kudos to AndersK and AndersB for creating such a great app! It’s still a small group, so any issues I’ve brought up on the Rawstudio mailing list have been answered very quickly. Clearly digital photography workflow on Linux is already well developed and like everything else in the Linux space, things are progressing at a fast and furious pace. It’s kind of nice to be somewhat involved the process too. 😉

Again, the world of Linux is broadening my knowledge. With Rawstudio, in order to get the latest patches I had to get accustomed to checking out the source from subversion, applying patch files and compiling. With a few quick questions to the friendly guys on the Rawstudio mailing list, I was up and running the latest patches no problem.

So that’s where I sit at the moment. Living, learning and not blogging about it often enough 😉 Some things never seem to change.

Pre-Vacation Stress Disorder

January 19, 2007

Is there such a thing as pre vacation stress disorder ? (No doubt there is.) Why is it that so many clients somehow sense that I’m about to go away for a week and decide on Wednesday to ask for meetings and drawings to be ready for Friday? E.S.P? Bahh.

Half a day at work tomorrow to clean up some last minute stuff and we’re off for the annual trek down to Myrtle Beach SC. Yeah yeah, I know, the weather’s not the greatest right now. But for us to walk along the beach – even in a sweater or jacket – in January is still a treat. Remember, January for us is regularly well below 0C (32F) so anything in the 50’s is ok by me.

This time we’re driving to Buffalo (only a couple of hours) and then staying over night and catching a plane to (I think) Charlotte and then direct into Myrtle. Last time we flew to Raleigh-Durham and it left us with a 4 hour drive. Better than 17 hrs of driving but still a pain. This time we’ll be leaving Buffalo by 8am and into Myrtle by 12. Fuddruckers here I come!! 🙂

If I’m lucky I might even find the time to throw up a post or two while I’m gone. 😉

Random Notes on Random Notes…

January 15, 2007

Reading through Hugh McLeod’s random notes on blogging, I realized he had both missed something and illustrated something at the same time. Blogging with humility *and* blogging with authority are not mutually exclusive.

Humility builds respect and adds to your authority, arrogance and snarky-ness take away from it.

Hugh’s list reads very snarky to me. Almost snarky for snarky’s sake. Good for building readership maybe, not so good for building authority IMO.

Doc Searls (and Jon Udell) on the other hand, are masters at blogging with authority sans arrogance.

Clever 90’s Flowchart

January 15, 2007

I think you probably have to be from a specific generation to even get this, nevermind find it funny (which I did):

More Inkscape Fun – Subtle Adjustments Can Make Big Changes

January 13, 2007

With Christmas, Little One’s birthday, New Years and Evelyn’s 100th birthday, it feels like the holiday that will never end! Tomorrow is Em’s birthday party with her classmates and friends. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll find more time to put towards this blogging endeavour once again.

In the meantime, a couple of Inkscape related things…

The About Inkscape 0.45 contest over on deviantArt has closed and a winner has been chosen!! No, I didn’t get shortlisted or picked, but it was fun creating a few entries and there are some real nice ones. Congrats to molumen who created the winning entry. Very sharp!

Over the holiday I did manage to do a little noodling with Inkscape 0.45 (which is not officially out yet). One of the main updates in the latest version is the blur functionality. How it get implemented in a vector-based drawing tool is way over my head but I love it just the same. 😉

Here’s a series of buttons I created which illustrate how very simple and subtle changes can have a significant impact on graphics:

All of these buttons are created in Inkscape with only either 3 or 4 objects. The button itself consists of a solid circle, a highlight semicircle (made with a simple boolean intersection of a circle and a polygon) and a text object – the letter. I’ve used an additional blurred circle object for buttons B,C and D.

Button A looks kind of shiny because I’ve left the highlight grey object (which is actually a solid white object with its opacity reduced to around 40%) as a solid color – that is without any gradient. So you see the hard edge from grey to black. This button only consists of 3 objects, the black circle, the grey (transparent white) highlight object and the green text. Looks ok I guess.

Button B isn’t a heck of a lot different from Button A. I’ve made 2 simple changes here. Actually the first is just to change the text from A to B. Inkscape is nice in that you can just double-click on the text and immediately edit it in place. The second more meaningful change is to duplicate the black circle, blur it and set it back behind the button (but above the blue background). This gives more of a photorealistic look in my opinion. It’s not quite a drop shadow but I think it enhances the button. You can use this method to enhance many different kinds of graphics when you want to maybe add impact, depth or emphasis to some object and yet be subtle about it.

Button C is identical to Button B except that I changed the blurred circle underneath to a light blue colour instead of black. this kind of gives a backlit effect. Not so subtle but maybe useful in moderation when you’re looking for that effect. I see a lot of building signage with this look. They slightly raise the letters off the building and light behind them. You can go quite brazen with this effect or keep it subtle as I’ve done here. Again, it’s just a simple blurred circle beneath the base button object.

Button D looks significantly different from the previous ones, but is the result of only one simple change. In fact it is exactle the same as button B, except that I’ve taken the grey highlight object and applied a gradient so that instead of a solid grey, it goes from a solid grey at the top to transparent at the bottom. You can see here how a simple change to the highlight gives a completely different feel to the object. Instead of shiny you get something a lot more matte. Again, a very simple change makes a significant difference to the image.

Button E is really just academic. I’ve taken button D and removed the blurred black circle behind the button. So it is effectively button A with a gradient applied to the highlight shape instead of a solid grey.

Hopefully someone will find this useful. Inkscape makes it so easy to experiment and play around that you find new things out all the time. If you spot some graphic or effect that you love while cruising the net, don’t think it’s impossible to create. Just stare at it and imagine how you might achieve those effects in something like Inkscape. It’s usually much easier than you think. 😉

Brief Revisit to XP – DSL Problems and Kudos to Earl

January 9, 2007

I’ve been having intermittent problems with my DSL service over the past couple of months. After behaving itself through most of December, it seems to have reared it’s ugly head again in the past couple of weeks. I won’t go very far into it except to say that it sometimes drops the connection and resyncs every 30 seconds. Other days it stays up steady for hours.

Tonight I got frustrated enough to call technical support. But before I did, I decided to boot up into XP so that I wouldn’t frighten the tech support staff away by telling them I’m running Linux. Of course my worry is that once they hear I’m running Linux they’ll claim that they don’t support that OS and possibly put the blame for my troubles squarely on that.

Now it’s been months since I’ve booted this machine into XP and after 10 minutes I noted three things:

1. Man.. does it ever take a long time to get to a workable desktop!

2. Man.. does it ever load a gi-normous amount of applets into the system tray!

3. Man.. does it ever hound you about updating spyware databases, anti-virus updates, windows system updates, and firewall software updates!

It’s amazing how many little bubbles can pop up once you don’t boot XP for a couple of months. If there’s one thing I love about running Linux (and the Mac guys are no different) is that you don’t have to be running 5 different third party security apps every time you boot up. I made the mistake of double-clicking Firefox before all the applets were loaded, so it took almost a minute for it to appear – all this on a P4-3GHz machine with 1GB of ram. Good god man!

Now just like when you hear a rattle in your car for a week but it seems to disappear when you bring the car in for service, my DSL seemed to be working fine almost the whole time I was on the phone with tech support. But after 10 minutes of describing and discussing the problem, he noted that my line was showing NO DSL service at all from his end. All this while I was clicking and browsing the web. So definitely something is up with the line. He created a ticket (whatever that is) for me and told me my problem was a level 2 tech support staff issue and that they would contact me within a few days. I guess it was out of his league.

So in the end I never had to run through the usual check of DSL settings and connectivity settings in the OS, which means I never really had to boot into XP anyway but at least it reminded me of why I started running Linux. 🙂

In a related note, Earl Moore has a nice writeup of his opinions on running Ubuntu. He gives some honest and practical comparisons between XP, Ubuntu and OS X. And while he prefers OS X (yes Earl, it *is* a slick interface, I’ll give them that), he’s honest in his criticisms and praise of Ubuntu. And kudos to him for trying it out before giving his opinions – nice to hear some realistic non-fanboy real world comparisons.

I’ve never really criticized OS X either way since I’ve never tried it (apart from clicking around on a few machines in the Apple store a couple of times). I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s proprietary nature (nor Microsoft’s) but I do realize they’ve set the bar for UI design. It, (along with honest criticism like Earl’s) gives the desktop Linux community something to shoot for. I think it’s getting there, it’s only a matter of time.