Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Things are getting a little silly, but variety is nice.

This machine now has 4 different bootable operating systems available across 3 HDDs:

openSUSE 12.3
Pear Linux 7 (may well go back to 8 shortly)
Windows XP
Ubuntu 13.10

In addition there is an 810Gb FAT32 partition on one drive for sharing images between Windows and Linux, since Linux can read windows partitions but not t'other way round under normal conditions.

Sure, it's a little bit nuts, but variety is good. I also wanted the FAT partition so I could duplicate image files on 2 separate drives for backup purposes (and I'm shortly going to have to configure software to look after that for me too).

Regarding Ubuntu, I wrote a followup post after installation and trying it for a few hours but somehow it didn't make it to publication. It only seems fair to review it a little more.

After several hours use, it seems to me that they've put a lot of development into most making things work - as well as they ever do in any Linux distro and better than some - but failed to polish and finish well; pretty much confirming my initial impressions. The software centre IS unstable and frequently only works for a short period before hanging and needing restarting, fonts are still kludgy-looking but nothing like the smeary mess they used to be (how ever did they get any kind of user-base in the old days?). It still looks like Linux from >5 years ago. In fairness, there may be a particular segment of Linux developers that like this, and you see similar dull interfaces from Mageia and PCLOS too, though both running KDE, though with better fonts.

Performance-wise it's a mixed bag.

On the negative side, apart from the software centre not being so good (a problem for new Linux users that Ubuntu is supposed to serve) it's distinctly slower than openSUSE (with a heavier desktop environment) and Pear (actually built on Ubuntu). DigiKam 3.4 is noticeably laggy, and while I can't install 3.2 to compare, there's no reason it should be so different. Linux Lite that I've mentioned before is also built on Ubuntu, and absolutely flies, suggesting that Unity is resource hungry. Without adding a package manager updates come by default once per week and there's no way to control repos apart from through the command line. That aside, nothing has obviously broken since installation.

The good side - there's lots of recent(ish) versions of packages, though not all are that up to date (like RAW Therapee and darktable). Another positive, and this may seem a curious one to include, is that DVD playback seems good - clear images, no glitching, no trouble detecting & running the disc. Out of idle curiosity I tried the Avengers Assemble DVD which refuses to play on any other linux build and got a 'Ubuntu internal error' message dialogue pop up after it failed to play. It plays without trouble on the Mac, so I presume there's some proprietary protection going on to block Linux.

I confess the interface has grown on me, and if I were stuck with this for the rest of my life then it wouldn't be tragic, but it just feels so much.... less than it could be.

Later on tonight I'll be downloading a trial copy of Adobe Lightroom 5. It seems daft to spend money on decent cameras and lenses, then skimp on software. If it's significantly better than what I currently use then I'll buy it.

A quick update on Ubuntu - I've been using it more now for general stuff, and I'm wondering if it's not that stable. Various things have fallen over, DigiKam doesn't seem stable and has real problems with folders in a different partition from home. Oddly too, things keep greying out, going very slow before speeding up to normal again. It's OK sometimes for surfing etc, but otherwise unimpressive.

I've also spent time in Darktable and Raw Therapee. For free software they are good, but from a users POV they are not intuitive to use, even when you have a fair degree of experience of the kind of things you want to do. There are some neat tools in there too (like a colour temperature dropper bottle selector for making bross changes) but they are frequently buried or difficult to use.

This laptop has now completed it's 5th year of service, and I'm debating whether it would be better value to, once again, spend about £150 on updating hardware (8Gb RAM and a 1Tb HDD in the DVD bay, plus external DVD drive, battery also needs replacing but that's real money) or take a bigger hit & replace completely. It doesn't really owe me much now, and the Dell XPS a friend bought at the same time (for a little less) has been retired after high mileage. I did have a look at the new 13" MBP in the Apple shop at MK on Monday, and it felt almost too skinny. The retina screen was OK, but not obviously stunning.

Something to consider.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A further techie Christmas post

Well after Fedora getting very short shrift here I reinstalled Pear 7 (rather than the current Pear 8) on the now vacant HDD. I'd forgotten how far back several versions of the software I wanted to use went on this OS, later updates being saved for more recent releases, and what was bearably old a year ago suddenly felt very creaky this week.

So after investigating what was available I discovered, not surprisingly, that Ubuntu has some of the best update support of all the various Linux distros. I guess it's down to having the biggest user base, being semi-commercial, and presumably also developers working up their software for this platform first. I particular, it seems DigiKam 3.5 (latest version) is Ubuntu 13.10 compatible. Now I'm not really all that fussed about using the latest and greatest versions normally, but because the camera is only a few months old support for its RAW files is missing in all the older versions. Some raw converters show a deep magenta cast across the image while others simply report the file type as incompatible.

OK, download the latest version of Ubuntu, burn DVD, pop it in & off we go. Check the 'download updates' and 'use codecs' tickboxes, allow to install alongside pear & give it an 80Gb partition, name the machine, give it a user ID, password etc etc. no trouble. Then up pops a box asking for email addresses, Ubuntu 1 IDs, and passwords.


There's an option to put an email address in if you don't have an account, which I do, and follow other instructions. The install continued for a while before the installer reported a fatal error and stopped.

Try a couple more times, once with it crashing promptly, another where it went part way & crashed. Annoying.

OK thinks I, lets try it without the additional downloads and codecs, 'just in case'. So I left these boxes and worked my way through to the Ubuntu 1 registration page. At this point I noticed a little radio button that offered the chance to 'register later'. Hit this and bingo, install went in fine. I have a strong suspicion that the installer can't cope with Ubuntu 1 registration, and that caused the fatal errors and crashes.

So, having proved to my satisfaction that the newly installed OS worked OK (but a bit slow!)I've gone back & reinstalled again with the additional software and codecs, just to prove it.There's just a couple of minutes left of the installation to complete, but all seems well, and I may well confirm completion shortly.

As for Ubuntu itself, the Unity toolbar seemed really clumsy, in the same way Gnome 3 is clumsy and constraining, and in the same way W8 can be clumsy (though without W8's style & grace - the tiles are really slick). The search function is there as it is in OSX, to find and launch applications, but this seems a dumb way to work, not knowing where your apps, files etc are. Also the commercial quick links are anathema to a typical Linux user. If this becomes a favoured OS because of the image processing software then I can see customisation and dock software not too far into the future.

Considering both Pear Linux and LinuxLiteOS are built on Ubuntu, it obviously has huge potential. I can also see why a previous generation of Ubuntu users were up in arms about Unity, and why Ubuntu has spawned a dozen alternatively-skinned versions. Both pear and LLOS are so quick and tidy, if only they had better app support for what I want they'd be my go-to OSs.

Right, install completed. There was an error restoring some previously installed applications (!) which is curious considering it was a vanilla install, but hey ho.

Booting now. The bootload has a hideous magenta background that makes it look like the monitor has failed, although the background looks more like a blood-orange. We're in, it seems to work and there's some basic setting up to try. It failed the DVD test, which is not surprising, since it's 'free' software without paid licenses, although the video player did start when selected in response to a DVD being mounted and offer some menu options through scrambled interface.

Off to cook dinner, then back later to play & test.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Christmas techie post - tipping my hat to Fedora.

And so today.

I'm presently downloading Fedora 20 (I was going to say somethingorother, but decided it wasn't too hard to look) ready for a wipe & install over Pear 8 for my Christmas break Linux fun. This is the Gnome 3 version for a change, since it's a long while since I've used Gnome.

Why replace Pear 8?

Well, it *looks* fabulous, but as it's become more apple-like, so some behaviours also have become unacceptably irritating, like placing application menu items on the top menubar, rather than at the top of the application window. Yes, Apple do this, and it's annoying in OSX as well, although at least with pear, when you close an application from it's window, you actually close it, rather than simply making the window disappear while leaving the app running, like with OSX.

And I'm still searching for my killer image-processing application.

I've been using Cyberlink Photodirector 4 on the Macbook, mostly because it was a free download and was reputed to be a pretty close copy of Adobe Lightroom - judging by the videos it's an almost EXACT copy, and lightroom training videos are quite useful for PD too. Except that under the hood it's weak compared to lightroom, lacking some of the tools, botching others. On the Macbook doing anything demanding makes the fans start wailing as it tries to stay cool. On the XP build (4Gb ram, 2.5GHx core duo processor) it simply runs out of memory when you try to use content-aware replacement on a 20mp raw file.

There's other issues too, mostly due to the Sony alpha 58 camera being relatively recent, and although the OSX version copes OK, the XP version hasn't been updated to cope and displays all raw images with a strong magenta cast due to the software lacking information about colour gamut for this cameras output. This is also a problem for earlier versions of DigiKam and some other image processing software too, but it IS highly annoying.

The fix has been to download the latest (windows) version of Adobe camera raw software and convert the images to .dng (digital negative) format before processing further. Just another lump in workflow, but at least there is a solution. I'm seriously wondering about ponying up for lightroom, except that I don't really want to run it on the Macbook, but I also don't really want a Windows computer. This hardware isn't suitable to create a Hackintosh and whatever I do will require spending more money to create a suitable platform. At this stage I'm just not willing to do that, and will likely just muddle along for now with freeware.

Fedora has finished downloading.

Burt before I go, I'll mention Chris is getting her Christmas present tonight. Behave you, snickering away at the back. I'm taking her to see Cats in the New Theatre, Oxford.

Take a while but never smile at Mr. Crocodile

And don't waste your time with Fedora 20 Gnome edition. If you're determined and interested I'm sure it could be OK, but it *feels* as restrictive as OSX, yet parts of it like the software management tool are unstable, and crash randomly. What looked impressive on a small screen doesn't scale well to the 1920:1200 monitor I've brought home from the office and there is a lack of flexibility and easy customisation in the interface that really should be there. Disappointed. I went to the trouble of installing non-free codecs (had to be done from the command line even though the repos can be added through firefox) and the XINE media player kept crashing on DVD playback. Elsewhere dialogue boxes would disappear under a blue blob on mouseover, often staying masked.

TBH it felt and behaved like an early beta. I've always wanted to use Fedora, and every time I've tried it things haven't worked out well. I'm slightly temped to try Mint KDE 16, but also quite strongly tempted to just reinstall Pear - probably 7, rather than 8 - and have done with it. 

Good morning world... and what shall I write of today?

This morning I wandered over and checked a few blogs. Never did the RSS thing except for a few weeks, because it caused those I knew and cared for to become like communication toothpaste, where all thoughts and intents were blended together into a grey goo. Visiting a blog was, for me, a little like dropping by someone's home: it was their chosen environment decorated in their tastes, and an opportunity to pass a few words (sometimes if they were online it would be like a chat-room).

Of course blogging is very different, as Marc V observed a couple of weeks back, when 1 month of posts would exceed in terms of output the last 2 years. Everyone seemed to have a lot to say, and we were all busy saying it. The good side is that it built community between people who would otherwise never have met or interacted, and I feel priviledged to have been part of that. We have developed friendships that will last beyond blogging, although the convenience of doing so compared to writing letters, say, is enormous.

Where I'm sat now I can hear the wind whistling through the vents in our stove (unlit at this point - chilly) and up the chimney. The weather outside is blustery and cold, but not freezing.

And reading Randall's blog reminded me of the way Christmas is such a pressure for those expected to perform their jobs through this period, to the benefit and pleasure of others. One is supposed to be jolly and exude the feelings of celebration, when instead you've been burdened by the burdens of others.

And God has a sense of humour. For me it wasn't too bad: I spent Monday night putting together video clips, music, service plan, readings etc, all carefully crafted, only for there to be just 6 of us on Christmas morning (plus one who arrived at 11, having read the time written incorrectly in a service schedule). So we sat in a circle, prayed our thanks, Chris read one of my mothers poems and Georgie read some further thoughts. We sang along to a couple of pre-recorded carols from extreme ends of the spectrum, one full of pomp with trumpet fanfares, one the calypso carol from a childrens school (and this is JUST how I remember it as a kid, even down to the attempted ethnic phrasing).

Naturally we got there early, and I was a little on edge, because I don't really like to be responsible for carrying a whole meeting, even when it's pre-planned. Thought I'd held it together until I was reminded about lighting the wreath, and then my face didn't manage to hide my feelings about that. Woops.

Is one supposed to view Christmas as something to survive?

It was all good in the end. We managed a long walk Christmas afternoon and a nice dinner with my mum that evening.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Happy boxingday morning.

Time to prep the message for Sunday then. ;-)

Chris is in the (cold, damp) garden and I'm sat at the cool dry computer. Coffee break is really over now.

Firefox is reverting.

OpenSUSE are 'updating' this OS by replacing the shocking, crashy mess that was FF 26 and returning to version 24. Good riddance on this occasion. Wonder if there's a backward path for the Macbook too?

I'm a firefox fan, but this latest version has been so unstable. Posted using Opera. ;-)

Monday, 23 December 2013

Now.... what shall I do next?

Considering a possible change that will significantly alter what I do in several areas, and wondering whether it's something put in front of me to be seized with both hands, or whether it's a distraction to pull us off course. I wonder.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

This and others

have been my wallpaper recently.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

So here we are in Oxford

And my camera battery has run out. God has a sense of humour.

It's Christmas time.

And the pressure is on to own more stuff.


But the upside is that we get to go 'Christmas shopping' together in Oxford today, which will be really nice - just being out together is great.

On a different side of things, I'm not at all convinced that Win XP and I are going to be happy together, having enjoyed the freedoms and speed of Linux for so long. And it may be because I've installed it on an old drive, but it makes a real din, with the drive seemingly continuously seeking and reading instead of just loading into memory what's needed and then waiting quietly.

And a little more on software - the 'incompleteness' of image processing software is becoming frustrating, where every application does some things well and some badly, but no single package seems complete. If one manages photos well then it tends to lack powerful editing tools or fail at finishing the image. Another will finish the image well with great colour balance tools and sharpening (DigiKam for example) but lacks good RAW processing and deep editing. Another will edit deeply, but will be slow and clunky.

It seems that I'm far from the only one who sees image processing like this, and many (professional) photographers use multiple packages to work on an image; even (especially) those with full photoshop. It's irritating because it slows work down and tempts one to just knock out unfinished pictures.

Hey, I should be grateful really, that I have all this processing power available at all. It wasn't so long ago that I'd have to work up to 2 or 3 in the morning in our bathroom, printing stuff and using ticks from the immersion heater timer to count seconds for exposure. And as for removing unwanted objects.....

On a related front, I'm wondering about trying to create a wallpaper repository. Wonder if there would be any interest? Here's an example from my latest Pear Linux build.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Apparently I have a mental age of 22.

If I were Japanese, that is. Test here.

Returning to windows.

I'm being boring - a computing equivalent of Mondeo-man (for those that don't live in Blighty, the Ford Modeo was a bland, large and convenient family car, a mark of being boring) and taking the easy option. There's a piece of software that I want to use, and it requires either OSX or Windows, and will not run under WINE. I'd have quite liked to make a Hackintosh, but TBH it's too much trouble right now, though I may attempt it later.  I'm also hoping that XP, with it's small footprint and low memory overhead will be a more efficient and faster option than bloated OSX, with it's poor memory management and much larger install.

Mind you, install hasn't been completely without it's challenges.

XP is now >10 years old, and the version I'm using (our 'spare' copy) is an early version with SP1. XP isn't compatible with AHCI, and to install it is necessary to turn off AHCI in the bios, which caused a certain amount of hunting around until I found the correct switch. Then I pulled the CD (yes, it's so small it fits on a CD!) after it had completed the first install stage, and it hunted for the disc, unsuccessfully, even after it was replaced, but in the wrong DVD drive. D'oh.

So, 30min later XP is installed, now with SP2 going on (from a CD I created some time back) shortly to be followed by IE6 (be still my beating heart at the thrill of new software - IE6 was a ghastly piece of junk - a real turd on the pavement of browser development) to enable windows update to take place. SP2 is important because the firewall is at least sort-of functional, and there's no way I'm connecting this machine to the www without it, even through the corporate network that's behind some kind of gateway. There will also be the Gigabyte drivers, NVidia graphics card driver updates etc etc. The M$ service pack 3. I hope by lunchtime I'll have a safe, secure-ish and functional XP PC, ready for the install of PhotoDirector.

But XP is being discontinued, isn't it?

Good point. I've no plans to use this as my regular OS, but solely for image editing. We'll have to wait & see.

I was disappointed at how sluggish it all seemed, until I installed Nvidia drivers for the graphics card. Just wow. I'd forgotten what old software on (relatively) new hardware was like in a new install. I doubt it will remain like this long as it gradually gets buried below updates and the system crufts up, but it's pretty good, even running off a slow old Seagate 250Gb SATA drive. Not so good is Windows update, which apparently doesn't.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Apparently I have above average psychopathic tendencies.

Quiz here.

You can play hardball with the best of them! You know what you want and are not afraid to go for it – even if it means bending the rules occasionally and putting a few noses out of joint on the way. Nothing fazes you. You are decisive, self-confident and pretty much up for anything. You are a ‘means-to-an-end’ person. For you, it’s not necessarily a matter of right or wrong, but of what gets the job done. ‘Bring it on’ is your mantra, but to help those around you keep their heads, you should learn some tricks to help you temper your self-satisfying tendencies...

My score was 70% - average for men is 47%.

It's twaddle really - yes I happily bend the rules, but I care far too much about others and getting it right than is either helpful or good for me, and tend to try to find ways of making others happy at my own & families expense.

Except when it comes to the knife collection. Have you seen my knives yet? ;-)

Friday, 6 December 2013

A bit more on the worship music industry

Came across an interesting link on Facebook (thankyou Paul Mayers) to an article written by Michael Gungor in 2012. He's a man on the inside of the industry, so probably in a better position to know than me.

A little tongue in cheek, there was a time when a way to test a song was to replace the names of Jesus or God in a song with the word 'baby' and if it didn't affect the song's logic then it had probably missed it already.

Poor theology in songs is nothing new, let alone what one might consider heresy. We came across a song recently that gave thanks for the apple being taken so that creation could fall in order for Mary to become queen of heaven. While it might fit Thomas Aquinas idea of felix culpa, it seems to me that Adam's fall was not desired by God, though known that could and would happen and a redemption required. Quite the reverse, the bible talks of the curse of sin - there is no blessing in the fall - and to suggest otherwise seems to make God a deeply unpleasant manipulator. Mary queen of heaven? I'll leave that one to those of the church of Rome to debate.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

If we had been in any doubt previously.

Chris and I both know we are not Anglicans by conviction (to borrow a phrase from a friend). Seeing and hearing rituals in a modern space cleared that one up!

Good to see our friend Eddie installed, collated - and probably stapled - in place last night at his new church in Leavesden.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The more forms of communication we have

The less we talk to each other.

I have just become aware that a good friend experienced a major source of stress and hassle a few days ago. The thing is, I check blogs, read facebook including several groups within FB, follow forums (multiple forums) but because I rarely check up google+ I missed it. Now I'm very unhappy with the way social networking aggregation *appears* to be implimented on phones, for example, but at the same time aggregation appears to be the only way to be reasonably sure I won't miss too much

Yeah, yeah, blogged about this before.

But it also makes me want to chuck all forms of internet based communication bar email (and even that's marginal) and return to paper, phones and face to face. While typing this I received a 'thankyou' 'instant message' from a lovely friend for a birthday message sent via skype on Wednesday last week. You see, few can really keep up with all the different channels, and aggregating skype isn't going to sit well with all the rest.

I know some think the use of social networking makes people dumb, and I largely agree, but worse than that, it makes people both addicts and glued to the computer screen - something I suffer with somewhat too.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Could I be like Jesus?

Why do I do what I do: is it self aggrandisement, ego-tripping, a refusal to accept the preferences of others?

Normally I keep discussions to the thread in which they started, but this one has affected me very negatively and since this is a personal blog, it seems appropriate to post. I was reminded this morning of this scripture*:

John 15:19-21

New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

We live in the west, right? No-one is going to persecute me here, are they? 

Well maybe (and that's a long discussion) but they might also treat me in other ways as Jesus was treated if I do what Jesus did. How so? I've been really focussing into the gospels this year, been reading very little else, and one of the stand-out passages for me has been Jesus' cleansing of the temple:

Matthew 21

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it “a den of robbers.

It occurred to me that if this happened in a western context we'd all be horrified. All sorts of people would be up in arms explaining how everyone was trying to come to God in their own way, about how the money changers were providing an invaluable service to the church and that they had amazing testimonies of God touching and changing lives through the way they had provided the right sacrifices for people to buy at just the right time. etc etc. You can make this stuff up for yourself. 

So how might Jesus react when the 'house of God' is full of people making money off the back of His gifting, His inspiration? Worship is a big big business now, and while I'm not suggesting the big names are coining it (at least, not in the UK) when I see smoke, coloured lights, stage moves and the rest I get a real bad feeling about where it's all coming from. Then guys draw in politics and all the rest into what they present. Meh, please don't mix it up with worship in Spirit and in truth.

I wonder if many cases, the artists and their products are the sacrificial animals being sold for use in the 'temple'.

So for me and 'my house' I take the stand where I do: "My selection criteria are sound theology, a focus on God".

There may be a small element of taste involved, but the motivation is primarily righteousness and purity. derby - joe - thank you for helping me think this through.

*All scriptures copied & pasted from www.biblegateway.com