Archive for August, 2007

Faster, more efficient web browsing

August 24, 2007

If you are like me and spend a lot of time on the net, you might as well become more efficient at it.

A good way to start is to use Firefox, and install some handy extensions. Yes, its free and yes, its easy to do.

Some extensions I use at the moment are:

Ad Block plus for filtering out ads (makes pages load faster)
* Download helper for downloading videos off Youtube etc
* Undo closed tab helper so I can right click > undo closed tab if I accidentally close a tab (If you’re not using tabs, start right now by pressing Ctrl-t)
* Bug me not. This is great, when I get to one of those annoying sites that makes you get an account, I right click on the sign in form and select “log in with bug me not”. Bug me not is a website where people sign up to such accounts and make their username and password public so others can use them. This extension works better on some sites than others. Works well on washingtonpost.com but I have not yet successfully use it on yahoo groups.
* User Agent Switcher. I use this so that I can change what browser I appear to be using. Useful when I view a friends website and I don’t want them to know it. They log all views and I’m the main one who uses Firefox. So I use the User Agent Switcher to change my user agent to Internet Explorer, and hey presto my friend doesn’t know that its me.
* Add n edit Cookies. Just out of interest, I keep an eye on what websites put on my machine by way of cookies.

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Gimp

August 23, 2007

What a stupid name Gimp is, and how embarrassing it can be to use. Sometimes I cover my screen when working in a public place, so people won’t see the word “GIMP” splashed across it as the program starts up.

What a great program it is though. Gimp is the Gnu Image Manipulation Project, a very handy graphical design and photo editing program. It has a lot of similarities to Photoshop. If you are looking for a free and open source alternative to Photoshop, look no further.

Here are a couple of useful hints if you want to start using the Gimp.

Firstly, get the ebook “Grokking the Gimp”. Search for it on Google. I think it is even available as a package for download in Ubuntu and Debian. The book is a little out of date but it has lots of very good tutorials and information.

Secondly, http://www.gimp.org has links to some very good tutorials. There are also heaps of great tutorials on the web and if you get the hang of Gimp, you can follow photoshop tutorials and replicate them in the Gimp.

Criticism of the Gimp

Some people say it is complicated and hard to use. Yes it is harder to use than MS Paint, but it does a lot more. I don’t agree that it is harder to use than photoshop, I think it is just what you are used to. I started off with Gimp and I don’t know how to use photoshop. Gimp has an unusual layout, with lots of windows for the one program. Once you get used to that, you come to like it. If you want the quickest entry from Photoshop to Gimp, try Gimpshop.

For my purposes of correcting digital photos and creating digital images, the Gimp is more than adequate. I understand that some features photoshop has are missing from the Gimp such as good support for CMYK colourspace (check, that may be fixed now). This may put off some professional image editors but for the common case, Gimp is great.

Most features that Gimp is “missing” can be replicated by using multiple tools or steps in the Gimp.

Advantages of Gimp

  •  It is a professional quality program and extremely powerful. From what I gather, Photoshop is its only rival
  • You get free upgrades. Sure, Photoshop may have a few more features but within a year or so Gimp catches up.
  • I haven’t yet used it myself, but I understand Gimp has better scripting facilties to automate tasks
  • Gimp runs on Linux and I don’t think Photoshop does

Why Linux

August 23, 2007

Here I’m talking about using Linux as your desktop Operating System. From what I understand, using Linux as a server for many applications is almost a given. The desktop has lagged behind a bit in previous years but I think it is now ready for the mainstream.

A few years ago, I was searching for a program for my Win 98 machine. I downloaded a file with the extension .tar.gz. I couldn’t open it and was curious about what it could be. Googling it, I found that it was a compressed file format used by something called Linux. What?? I was curious, and after a lot of reading up on the web, I got hold of a copy of Red Hat (7 I think) and installed it. I managed ok for a total newb but getting the modem to work nearly killed me I was totally clueless. After a while I was not so clueless and I tried other Distros like Debian. I really liked Debian because of the package management system and the fact that it seemed more independent than Red Hat as it is not owned by a commercial company. When Ubuntu first came out, I tried that as it was based on Debian but seemed to be a bit more user friendly. I have stuck with Ubuntu ever since but I think that I might use Debian for some projects I have in mind as Debian seems a bit more “configureable”.

Anyway I better answer the title of this post. Why Linux? Here are the reasons I use Linux and why I recommend Linux to you.

1. If you are technically inclined or enjoy making things or tinkering, Linux is a must. You can change anything you wish, the more knowledge you have, the more you can do. Windows is closed source, so you can’t change key parts of the Operating System. Because of this , Linux attracts other tinkerers, who make their tinkerings (is that a word?) available and you can do even more. If you write software, Linux is almost compulsary as there are so many useful developer tools. If you are a student studying Computer Science, Engineering, the Sciences, Maths, Linux is definitely the OS for you. If you want MATLAB at home but can’t afford it, give OCTAVE a go. It’s basically a clone of MATLAB, not as fully featured but still very powerful.

2. If you are sick of viruses, adware, spyware, bloatware…… come to Linux and leave all that behind. You no longer need to waste internet time downloading the latest virus updates with Linux. You will also find that although Ubuntu can prompt you for software upgrades, it is nowhere near as intrusive as Windows, which is doing all sorts of things that probably violate your privacy and waste your bandwidth.

3. Linux is free. You don’t have to pay a cent for it

4. You want to customise your setup e.g run only minimal, fast programs to speed up your computer. I tried Puppy Linux on my laptop and man does that go fast. Click on a program like the web browser and, bang, its opened immedietaly.

5.You value your privacy and wonder how much Microsoft or the rest of the world can spy on you through your computer.

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Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) on a Compaq Presario C300 Laptop

August 23, 2007

If you have this laptop, visit  http://www.linlap.com/wiki/HP-Compaq+Presario+C300 for a good guide on installing linux on your laptop. linlap.com is a handy resource for any linux laptop problems.

I have successfully been running Feisty on my laptop for about a year now. If you have a C300 or similar and are wanting to install a Linux distro, I can highly recommend Ubuntu. If you don’t know what Linux is, see my next post. I am now dual booting Windows and Ubuntu. Ubuntu boots about 3 times faster than Windows and when I connect to the Internet, I don’t have to wait ages for Windows to connect to Bill Gates and tell him what I ate for breakfast and download the latest crapware to bloat my machine even more. I also don’t have to wait while Norton Antivirus spends ages starting then connecting to the internet…….. You get the message, I’m free from all those annoyances

When I installed Ubuntu, I decided to keep Windows on one partition so every now and then I could go back and remind myself of what I was(n’t) missing out on. So I decided to partition my hard drive and dual boot. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry it’s not that hard. I recommend that if you are a newb you should dual boot, in case you get stuck in Linux and need to go back to Windows eg for an internet connection. Note that the Compaq C300 has a dirty big hidden partition where Compaq put some sort of backup restore files for Windows. This is just wasted space that you paid for and can’t use. Im going to use mine as another Linux partition when I run out of space. Ill let you Google “dual booting” and figure it out for yourself, Its pretty straight forward these days especially with the Ubuntu installer.

Ubuntu Feisty pretty much installed itself. Most things worked out of the box, including most of the media buttons (like the mute button). However, there were two things that took me a while to fix.

The first was the modem. The C300 has a Conexant HSF softmodem. The modem did not work out of the box but it was very easy to get and install the driver for the modem. I went to http://www.linuxant.com/drivers/hsf/install.php and used method B. Note that Ubuntu is Debian based and uses .deb packages to install software.

If you have another laptop different from mine, and you don’t know what to do, Google “scanmodem” and you’ll find instructions on how to identify your modem chipset, which you need to know to find a driver for it.

The second was the wireless networking card. The wireless card is a Dell Wireless 1390 WLAN Mini-PCI Card, the vendor is Broadcom . Initially, I tried the drivers that shipped with Ubuntu- the bcmxx module. However, during booting, I’d get an error like “bcm43xx firmware not detected” or something along those lines. So after a few attempts to fix that, I opted instead to try the ndiswrapper system. I found a really easy way to install that, using a script I downloaded from here: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=405990&highlight=BCM4318 Now my wireless works fine. It seems to be about the same speed as under Windows. If you have a different laptop or wireless card, a useful command is lshw to see what hardware you have. sudo lshw | grep network runs the lshw command as root and then pipes the input to grep, which searches it for the word “network”. This will give you more information to help when you consult the mighty oracle, google.

So now I pretty much have a 100% functional machine running Ubuntu. My next challenge is to find out how to edit raw photo images from my digital camera. I got the free Canon photo editing software with my camera, but of course it is Windows and Mac only. My first attempts to open the raw images in Gimp failed, but Im hopefull Ill find a plugin somewhere that will help me there.

Another minor problem is that the battery seems to go flat a little faster under Ubuntu than Windows, I haven’t timed it but Im pretty sure there is some difference.

Herb’s Handy Hints

August 23, 2007

I hate reinventing the wheel. From now on, whenever I spend a long time solving a problem, Ill post the solution here so you don’t have to do the same. I have had a lot of useful help off the web so this is my payment back to the world.

I’m mostly going to publish information about Linux and tech/electronics. But there might be a few random items thrown in too.