Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Debian8 with Gnome 3

This version looks REALLY good.

The screen fonts, wallpaper and tool bars have a very pleasing, apple-ish level of polish that's often missing from Linux installs, and it seemed stable and functioned well (Debian has a reputation for stability). It wasn't as quick as I might have expected and Iceweasel (the firefox-based alternative browser) is a bit clunky, plus it's loaded with games by default (why, for heaven sakes?).

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Technology succeeds and fails

to impress me.

That's probably not a surprise, and familiarity is a big source of unreasonable contempt for me.

The prompt for this post was use of a cheap Lite-On external DVD drive. I've become less impressed with Linux Mint/cinnamon of late, and even though the machine I'm using is relatively powerful for most of my needs, stuff like browsing seems really sluggish and scrolling jerky and hesitant, so it's back to Distro-hunt again.

I just plugged the drive into this laptop, popped a blank disc in it, right clicked on the Debian-gnome .iso file and selected burn. The drive spun up with an amazing amount of energy for such a tiny, slender device, I was quite astonished - normally when used for playing DVDs it whispers away quietly to itself.

In half a minute the DVD was ready, and I'm presently installing Debian-Gnome on my testing drive, replacing elementary thats really had almost no use. I really liked the idea of Elementary: it looked a lot like Pear Linux (and that's a good thing) though somewhat cruder and less refined. But it seemed a bit glitchy, sometimes unstable, and coupled with the attitude of the developer I've not really been interested enough to pursue it.

So enter Debian.

The guys at Mint do a version of Debian that I'd tried a couple of times and found reasonably quick, but it was always MINT Debian, and seemed like more of the same. This time I wanted to try Debian 8 from the developers themselves, hence giving it a go. I've also been interested in seeing were Gnome 3 has got to with their desktop environment, so this was a chance to do both. I also have a Debian image with XFCE as the desktop environment, so if Gnome proves too clunky, as I suspect, there will be a lightweight alternative to evaluate.

I'm also feeling somewhat impatient. Several versions of Debian were available for download, and I'd *thought* that selecting the first would give me the default desktop on the disk, rather than core OS only as it turns out, and so I have another 30min to wait while Gnome is downloaded to compete the install.

Ho hum.

Might just carry on blogging then.

My good friend Marc Vandersluys, blogging at The Eagle And Child (link to the left) was puzzling recently about the point of SciFi, and not 'getting' what was interesting to make one want to read an entire book. He was struggling with being thrown into a sea of information without a rope of understanding to cling to and allow him to make sense of apparently arcane details:

Despatch 11437~990 to the vice Glorg, sector Syllaphis 2: Greetings Humpherl, the moon is now total and we await your teardrop.

I love this voyage of discovery, of piecing together and being forced to draw conclusions as to what's really going on, having to continually link evidence and information to create a picture and understanding out of words that are mostly familiar, but meanings that are not. It's somewhat of what I do for work, and it's somewhat like using Linux - a bit of trial and error, a bit of exploring new worlds and new ways of doing the same things. And in the end, scifi is pretty much ALWAYS about people doing the same things in slightly new ways, even when it incorporates aliens with apparently different requirements.

Now, I recogise I'm starting to ramble a little here, but the install is nearly over.

I read much less scifi these days and far more classical literature - which isn't so very different really - but I have recently stumbled across an old BBC TV series that I found refreshing and WAY more adventurous than I'd ever though possible for TV, though this was from the 80s, when people had more than 15 sec attention span for stuff they didn't understand.

I downloaded the first episode of Sapphire and Steel, starring David McCallum (ex-Man From UNCLE) and Johanna Lumley (ex New Avengers). There's a chemistry between them that helps overcome the wooden 80's style TV acting, but better than that, the story is presented in a way that makes you look for a rope in a tossing sea. Brilliant, and everything that Hollywood scifi isn't, including an absolutely miniscule budget and zero CGI. I strongly recommend finding, downloading & watching (it's >2 hours long).

Anyway, back to my title.

Last Saturday we went looking at tablet computers, not least in order that Chris might become familiar with Android so she could use my phone, and we had some tesco vouchers to use up. Tesco's Hudl 2 has a great reputation as a budget tablet with good performance and great screen, but in the store it seemed childishly gaudy, with a slightly laggy performance and uninspiring feel. The cheap windows 8.1 tablet next to it had a much lower res screen, yet felt so much better to use. I also tried a Lenovo Yoga 10" tablet in staples (very heavily reduced) and the performance and design again seemed much better.

The Chris asked me why I wanted a tablet.

That rather killed it, TBH. Tablets are primarily media consumption devices, rather than working tools, though they will double up for sat-nav, lightweight portable email platforms, e-book readers etc etc. And I've lost patience with my Kobo.

But I realised I wanted a toy, not a tool.

I'm typing this on an i7 quad-core laptop with 16GB Ram and QHD screen - it's a real workstation. Chris uses the Macbook for watching DVDs when sat on the settee, and it's my travel computer too. There's the livingroom desktop that I'm just fiddling with right now. Chris has another desktop computer upstairs for accounts and there's the little Philips 12" laptop that I bought for Africa (in case someone stole it - effectively disposable) that Ben used during the winter. We're computered out, but I'm fascinated to find out if a tablet can be more that just an overgrown phone, as well as replacing the Kobo.

So we didn't buy anything. That's not to say we won't in the future, but probably for the best right now.

And that Debian is STILL installing - makes Windows look positively rapid.

Friday, 22 May 2015

So I'm, trying to juggle 3 jobs.

The first is, of course, shutting down the lab side of my business. There's kit to sell (some sold already) materiel to dispose of and a need to do some manufacturing for one customer, some custom work for another before it all goes. And a butt-load of paperwork to sort, file, recycle etc.

Then there's my development job. It's very different in a way, from so many things I've done, yet at the same time draws on physical chemistry, engineering and instrumentation experience as well as development process experience. Love it, get a little frustrated by it, wish I were doing it full time (2 days/week isn't anything like enough to acheive what's needed in the time frame) and really glad to be onboard.

Finally job number 3, managing  the main shared lab facility. Again there's not enough time, though in a few weeks that will be less of a problem. The biggest frustrations are a mix of IT (because everything is done in the cloud, it's all remotely managed and I can't 'just' fix it now & work) and trying to sort out someone else's quality system. Even though I respect and appreciate the originator of that system very much, it had them working hours into the night and is hugely labyrinthine and deeply customised, and at the same time basic good practices weren't always followed (like marking obsolete documents as such when issuing updates). And there's no 'logic' to the system that allows one to locate all temperature monitoring documents in a single subsection etc.

So I went and made a coffee, having had a less-than-efficient morning trying to print a copy of a record document and top up liquid nitrogen containers. The window to the kitchen was open the out-door scent coming in was fresh and cool. It's not all bad then. :-)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Francis Bacon and the masters

Is the title of an exhibition at the Sainsbury centre for visual arts in Norwich. I know this because my mother, in her great generosity, passes over her copy of The Week magazine, which summarises the news by drawing from a  wide variety of both British and international sources without significant political or obvious cultural bias.

To illustrate the article on this exhibition they had, side by side, The Crucifixion as depicted by Bacon, and the picture that inspired him by Alonso Cano. Granted both pictures were small in print, but one of them appeared to be a finely crafted image with expressive use of light and shade, carefully detailed and and with emotions poured into form, while the other looks like the bored doodling of a teenager who is depressed after listening to heavy metal. I'll leave you to guess which is by whom.

To quote a quote from the article "But there is in some cases 'not obvious relationship' between the exhibits" (the inspiration and Bacon's work). And "Many of these connections are 'tenuous' and among all the masterpieces it is 'easy to forget about Bacon altogether'". I feel quite guilty for finding this so pleasing.

The magazine is often drily humorous with the comments it extracts for an article. The obituary for Keith Harris (he had a ventriloquist act with a green 'bird' called Orville) was completed with a quote from Harris made to Louis Theroux, who had asked him how he felt about Orville and their 25 year relationship. "I created a monster, in a funny way" Harris replied. "He made me into a household name, but he put me into a pigeonhole".

And finally.

In an article regarding the performance of Twitter as a listed company, Lucy Kellaway of the FT was quoted as saying that CEO Dick Costolo spouted nonsense: "As we iterate on the logged-out experience and curate topics, events, moments that unfold on the platform, you should absolutely expect us to deliver those experiences to the total audience." The observation was made "What better way to undermine a brand dedicated to 'saying things snappily' - it's like discovering the Burberry chief Christopher Bailey secretly buys his clothes from Primark."

That was the week that was. ;-)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ever hear a noise that distressed you?

Maybe distress is the wrong word, but when you're sat in front of your laptop and can hear a hard drive going flat out when the machine is apparently idle, if you're IT-inclined it should make you very worried.

Putting my ear close to said laptop made me no wiser, and the noise, if anything, diminished. It seemed to be coming from off to my right, but small rooms with hard walls like this office can reflect sound, making it bounce and seem to come from elsewhere.

I stood up & the noise diminished. It MUST be the laptop.

Sat down, seemed to be coming from the printer off on the right (printers don't normally contain hard drives, especially when they're nasty budget units from HP) but listening closer suggested the source wasn't the printer.

Much perturbation.

Finally tracked it down.

It's the electric clock, and it makes the noise when the second hand is descending, so there's about 30sec of hard-drive style noise, then a slightly gritty quiet. Had me fooled for about 3 weeks of 2 working days/week.

At least I've managed to get the office wirelessly networked now, so we're not tripping over cables and passing stuff around. Next step will be a NAS for file storage and backup and (hopefully) a mono laser printer so we stop burning cash on ink refills in the HP.

This is the job where I have IT input. In the other, for various reasons, the organisation has decided to use 'cloud computing', which kinda works and kinda doesn't. It's like 1995 all over agan with sluggish behaviour, sometimes unreliable apps and never being able to find your stuff when you want it. But they will probably pay me, eventually.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Silence isn't golden (it's just silence).

2 of my favourite bloggers have both posted pieces about silence, neither of which I've really read yet. Blogging has just dropped off the radar for me recently, and I've been silent because I've not been saying anything here. i.e. there's nothing clever about it from my end.

So I'm re-shaping my life a bit more: beginning to shut the business, trying to mentally juggle 2 jobs outside of that, doing more guitar playing, more amp building, more running, more work on the house, more life elsewhere. Photography happens sometimes too, though I'm slacking on the darkroom side of the committment to that particular craft, so images are stacking up on my hard drive waiting for creative input.

Here's a couple of recent pics: Chesterton Windmill in Warwickshire.