Friday, September 29, 2006

Open Source Astronomy Anyone?

Back in the early 90's I remember a friend at university lending me a 3.5" floppy with a piece of MS-DOS software that provided a pseudo planetarium application. You could input your location and it would generate the constellations based on the current date and time. Quite a nifty piece of software. Recently, on the Jak Attack podcast I heard mention of a similar application called Stellarium. It's open-source, and has versions for Linux, OSX and Windows.

I installed it from the Ubuntu repositories and configured it for my location (thank you Google for helping me find my latitude and longitude). What a wonderful application. It works flawlessly on my machine. The interface is very sharp. Although I've only played with it a while, it has lots of options for turning various things on and off (constellations, nebulae, atmosphere, etc..) and you can speed up, slow down, or reverse time while everything in the universe adjusts itself. You can also zoom in on nebulae and planets.

Stellarium also has what I think is one of the nicest looking interfaces I've seen in a while. It's amazing how far planetarium programs have come. And it's even better when you realize it's an open-source project. Very slick.

If you're interested in astronomy, definitely check it out.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Getting Involved and RAW processing on Linux

As a big supporter of free and open-source software and the community that supports it, but having exceedingly crappy coding chops, it's been a little frustrating trying to actually participate in any meaningful way. However I've finally taken the advice given by the LugRadio guys on several different episodes and found another way to get involved.

Back at the beginning of August I wrote a post called More RAW on Linux Goodness. In this post I mentioned the RawStudio project who's aim is to produce a simple, easy to use RAW converter application for Linux. I've followed the project's mailing lists and use the app whenever I get the chance. So in a bold move (for me anyway), I inquired about helping out. Documentation is an important but often neglected portion of many open-source projects and this seemed a great fit for my interests (writing and photography being two of them). So I did some reading on DocBook and Subversion (SVN)- both of which I knew absolutely nothing about - and asked how to get involved.

So a very rough base document for a Getting Started Guide was very recently made available via SVN and I've actually made some revisions and corrections and did my first ever commit tonight. Needless to say, I'm quite proud of myself. Hehe.

If you're interested in digital photography on Linux then check out Rawstudio. It's shaping up to be a really useful application - hopefully with good documentation to boot! :)

(PS - many thanks to AndersB, AndersK, MartinE and others on the mailing list for answering my unending newbie questions - and providing great info!).

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Podcast=Bleccch, Netcast=Yummm

Early this Saturday morning I read a post by Leo Laporte (posted even earlier this morning) about Apple sending a cease and desist letter to a software and services company called Podcast Ready claiming that the terms "Podcast Ready" and "myPodder" infringe on Apple trademarks. He makes some great points:

Now I'm far FAR away from being a religious person, but if there is a god, I beg him/her/it, "Please let this be true!!!!". Leo goes on to say that (like me) he really doesn't like the term 'podcast' anyway. In no way does Apple deserve to be construed as the inventor of podcasts or a required part of a podcasting system. That is not an angry shot at Apple, it's just fair.

Truth is, I've never liked the word podcast. It causes confusion. In the past couple of days two people have told me that they can't listen to my shows because they "don't own an iPod." I have to explain constantly that podcasts can be listened to on computers, phones, MP3 players, and CDs, as well as iPods, but because of the name the confusion persists. And now Apple is threatening people who use the word.

Further he suggests using the term "netcast". I fully agree. It's more accurate, better sounding and a nice little pun to boot. Will it happen? Maybe not. But man do I ever wish it would! And don't for a second suggest 'audioblog'... if there is an uglier name than 'podcast' then it's got to be 'blog'.

Now how do we get 'netcast' into widespread use? Well this is why I beg and pray that Apple decides to fight companies using the term. It will make adopting a new term so much easier.

Anyone heard any great NETCASTS anyone?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Just for fun...

[Update: Ok. I admit I expected more than one person to (even attempt to) give it a shot - thanks Brad. There are 3 distinct possibilities here: 1) It was too hard. 2)I'm the only one who likes Pictionary, or 3) Almost no one (save Brad) reads my blog. I'm hoping its 1, disappointed if it's 2, and fully prepared to admit it's 3. In any case and as always, I will soldier on. The answer to the pictionary puzzle was "Posting Block" -sigh-]

For those (like me) who always enjoyed a good game of Pictionary.... this is an easy one. Leave your guesses in the comments...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Personal Integrity...hello?

Just reading about the so-called 'outing' of an anonymous blogger known for his personal attacks and cheap shots. I have never read him, but after checking out his blog I realize I likely wouldn't want to anyway - even if I did agree with his views. In any case, it quickly brought a simple thought to the fore:

In the blogosphere, anonymity - falsely achieved or not - serves a useful purpose for select parties (bloggers fearing political persecution and parent bloggers protecting their children's identity, come to mind). But using anonymity to free oneself of the burden of personal integrity is just plain stupid.

How can you stand behind what you write if you're not willing to errr... stand behind it.


How long will it take for people to realize (especially in this era of networking) that 'what comes around ultimately goes around'? Chances are already good and ever-increasing, that what you write can turn around and bite you in the ass.

Great post on humility...

One of the personal traits that I value most is humility. It doesn't always make for high traffic-generating blogposts (or efficient corporate ladder climbing) but it's still something I genuinely cherish. For example, it's much more efficient to be brazen about your views and absolutely unconvinced that anyone else could possibly be right. That type of thing may not win you any friends but it might garner you more page views. There is a great post about humility by Rosa Say over on You should definitely check it out. Here's a snippet:

We can be confident, and we can be self-assured; humility does not call for us to be meek, or consider ourselves lower in stature. We do not require less of ourselves, and we take our role and our responsibilities seriously. However what humility does, is create a sort of receptacle of acceptance in us, so we are open to being filled with the knowledge and opinions of others. Humility is a kind of hunger for more abundance. The greater our humility, the greater our fascination with the world around us, and the more we learn.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sparks on the Rails

Listening to the last few Gillmor Gangs has been like watching a train wreck. You can't take your eyes (or in this case ears) off of it as the brakeless train hurtles faster and faster. It only seems a matter of time until the wheels leave the rails. But man, until then it's getting less intellectual but more interesting with each installment.

Last time it appeared that Jason Calacanis had wrestled the controls from Steve and was bound and determined to drive it straight off the tracks. And in this latest episode Jason is not there (what happened to script continuity anyway?) but we find Mike Arrington regrettably rating poor Hugh after he's left the call. Not nice. But at least we're getting to hear some real opinion on things - even if the interesting ones are non-tech related.

Will Steve continue to piss off his fellow passengers by chopping and hacking each episode into bite sized chunks? It seems they're all against it - to Steve's apparent delight.

Will Mike Arrington finally realize that all his chuckling and backhanded comments about Hugh actually do hurt his own reputation?

Will mainstream media heroes Dan and MikeV finally join Jon Udell in leaving the dark side?

Will Adam Curry show up and respond to Steve's 'Fuck you Adam Curry...but he's a fantastic guy' statements?

Will Doc Searls actually say something that doesn't make absolute sense?

Good luck to Steve in keeping it on the rails. He's actually got me engaged again, but the problem with train wrecks is that while they are good at garnering attention, we all know how they ultimately end.

For now, you can check out the blog that doesn't exist by clicking this not-dead-yet link.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Alter Egos

Pat Davila writes that in addition to being one of the hosts of The Linux Link Tech Show, he's also a cursing Philipino blogger and a thug from Albuquerque among other things...

I found out a couple of years ago that I was a board member of the Grande Prairie EMS in Alberta (and found out I look much older than I feel too!).


Thursday, September 14, 2006

MOC and Music That Still Moves Me

I've never been one to obsess over my music. My digitized collection has always been what you might call a 'dogs breakfast'. I've ripped my own CD's as required but never made any concerted effort to digitize my entire collection. What music I do have on my hard drive is neither sorted nor categorized, neither rated, nor tagged. But I do enjoy it just the same.

Over the last few years I've imported my music into a few different applications such as Windows Media Player, ITunes, and more recently Rhythmbox, Banshee, and Listen. All of these applications are great, each has their own specific approach to playing my music, and many times this involves building a catalogue of all my music. But to be honest, they've all been a little over the top for me. Enter MOC (Music on Console)...

MOC is a console-based music application for Linux. I've been using it for a little over a week now and I'm loving it. Here are some reasons why:

1. It's lightweight in terms of system overhead.
2. It's configurable, keyboard controlled, and simple to use.
3. It doesn't attempt to catalog my music.
4. You can create playlists and store them.
5. It can easily be set to run unobtrusively in the background.
6. All the standard player functionality like shuffle, repeat, skip, etc.. is only a keystroke away.
7. It's open source.

While playing around with it I've been running into some songs I haven't listened to in quite a while. My musical tastes (like all my other interests) have varied over time. For instance, right now I'm going through your typical late 30's male skate-punk wannabe pseudo-diluted mid-life crisis phase where I find myself listening to Blink182 and Our Lady Peace - good grief!

But in the course of re-exploring my music collection I've come across several songs where I've thought: "Hey.. I can see (or hear) why I used to love that song!" They're from varying genres, but they all strike a nerve and either get me weepy or playing air-guitar. Here are a few of them and, like my music collection, they are in no particular order:

1. Charlie Sexton - Impressed
2. Three Dog Night - Shambala
3. David Lee Roth - Goin' Crazy
4. Howard Jones - Like to Get To Know You Well
5. Jim Croce - Time in a Bottle
6. Neil Diamond - I Am I Said (!)
7. Styx - Come Sail Away
8. Squeeze - Goodbye Girl
9. Van Morrison - Brown Eyed Girl
10. The Box - L'Affair Du Moutier
11. Van Halen - 5150
12. Louis Armstrong - La Vie en Rose
13. The Fabulous Thunderbirds - Wrap It Up
14. Jimi Hendrix - Stone Free
15. Tracy Chapman - The Promise

What are some of those songs that used to (and still) move you?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Value of Teaching

A great post on Copyblogger today: Don't Sell... Teach. I for one am tired of listening to people figure out how they can market at me or even how they can somehow get my consent to market at me. There is so much untapped value in teaching and sharing. You as a marketer must give me value in order to get value out of our relationship. It's about time the value of empowering and sharing knowledge becomes a cornerstone in building that relationship.

Send up a rocket...

This my 200th post on this blog! Woohoo! Who'da thunk I'd keep going this long (not me).

I've done 200 posts in 530 days. That's about 0.377 posts per day or more logically, a post every 2.65 days. I'm sure I can do better.

Incidentally, I reassured myself as to why I love Python. A couple of quick commands at the python interpreter:

>>> import datetime
>>> print,9,12) -,3,31)

yields me the difference in days. You gotta love the simplicity of it.

Looking back over my posts, nothing profoundly important jumps out at me. Except the fact that I'm having fun. If you are a subscriber to this blog, I truly say Thank You.

Connecting to my linux box at home...anybody?

One thing I'd like to be able to do is connect to my home machine from work. I'm running Linux at home (Ubuntu Dapper) and would love to be able to access my files from here at work. Unfortunately my work machine is XP-Pro, can't change that. But I am using Cygwin to achieve some command line goodness here at work.

I'm a relative newbie to linux and I know relatively little about remote computing. Can anybody point me to some good information on how to do this? I know it would involve ssh and some other things but I'm completely at a loss as to how to set it up. If you know of any good guides aimed at newbies like me I'd really appreciate it. Email me ( or leave a comment.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Penguin Pete's Programming Pet Peeves...

Sorry, I just couldn't resist the alliteration in the title...

Penguin Pete's got quite a rant today. The subject is programming pet peeves and it's well worth a read. He's got six of them so far. His first peeve is 'web programming', here's a taste:

...You want a user interface on your page? No, you need Javascript for that. Well, then, something to generate it all for you? Silly, you're scripting for the *server* side, not the *client* side - we COULDN'T have the same language do both, now could we? Go learn PHP! What, you want to run from the server side and the client side at the same time??? You knucklehead, you're going to have to learn AJAX, which is made of two languages you already know, but we had to combine them and change them subtly because every damn line of web page code simply MUST be in a different language! In fact, it simply KILLS us that you're able to use similar syntax to make text bold and italic, but we're working our ass off to break that.

Nice to read complaints sometimes, even more so if they're entertaining...


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Change of Face

I keep meaning to point people to this post and keep forgetting... It's a post by Penguin Pete asking if the Gimp can fool Photoshop fans. But it's the example subject that caught my interest.. :)

Weeding the garden and fighting boredom

Kent Newsome is bored with the blogosphere and puts it a lot of it down to the self-aggrandizing echo chamber that it's seemingly become (in the areas he frequents anyway). For the most part I agree. In fact if you take a broader look at my blog posts you'll likely see that my focus has been on learning, providing interesting info, and exploring the avenues that interest me. High-horse conversations about web 2.0 and the latest goings on in the blogo-podo-sphere bored me quite a while ago. I still post about them if something piques my interest, but by and large I have been in a more selfish learning/sharing mode for the last little while.

I've thought about whether or not my current interests and posting habits have lost me any readers and I've decided that's not the key thing for me. I'd rather be interested about what I post and read by two people than be bored and read by ten. In any case, checking my simplistic site stats it appears my readership has remained the same but the portion of visitors on Linux has increased (not surprised) and overtaken the Mac contingent which has correspondingly decreased. But it's the 'not being bored' part that's important.

Just to contribute a couple of complaints to go along with Kent's:

- I'm tired of reading blogposts that constantly self-reference and promote. I'm not talking about sites that reference past useful articles. I mean things like re-linking to past quotes that the writer thinks were so wonderful and insightful. I'm never sure if they honestly think these things are useful to the reader or if they really have no humility whatsoever.

- I (like Kent) am on the verge of unsubscribing from a few blogs. I've been mulling it over for a while. I'm thinking of keeping blogs that provide useful information, blogs that provide interesting, funny, and personal content, and one or two current event blogs.  Self-promoting, humility-free, 'Look at me I'm f*&!$# great' blogs will fall by the wayside shortly.

- I usually try to see the angle that a blogger is coming from with his posts so that I can better interpret what I'm reading. It's pretty easy to see when posts are coming out truly out of interest or with goals of self-promotion in mind. I'm getting tired of reading about 'what wonderful things I did today'. Is the post trying to share some truly useful information with me, or is it just letting me know how great it is to be them? Doc Searls for instance has a magical way of providing interesting and thoughtful information about things he's finding out. He meets a ton of great people, but his posts are about the things he's learned and wants to share, not about how great it is that he met them. It's so funny to listen to him on the Gilmor Gang, because he sometimes seems like a smart, friendly goldfish swimming with a school of sharks.

Interestingly, my recent interest in Linux and open-source  has put me in a place largely (not completely) free of the aforementioned nitpicks. It is almost all about helping others, learning and sharing information, creativity and tech. It seems to be very little about making money and self-promotion.

I'm always truly surprised when I see the depth of conversation going on in other, completely different areas of the web. The Web 2.0/Tech/Valley scene is really so tiny when you venture out and see how many other, less shiny, but more interesting things are going on.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Polar Opposite of GUI Nirvana

Doing a little surfing for Linux info at lunch today and I came across this example of GUI nirvana...tooltips anyone?

Caution: those prone to epileptic fits might want to stay away  ;)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Six Reasons

Six reasons why I like my Canon 50mm f1.8 lens:

1. It was - and still is - cheap and sharp. (How's $120 Cdn. for ya?)

2. I love shooting in natural light without flash and a wide aperture is great for maximizing available natural light.

3. I love using a shallow depth of field to soften backgrounds and focus attention.

4. Since it's a fixed lens, it forces you to 'zoom with your feet'. Instead of sitting on your duff zooming in and out, you tend to get up, move around and try new things.

5. Did I mention natural light?

6. Shots like these ones are so easy to get.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Linux Newbie - Photo Printing

As I alluded to in my previous post, I have finally taken the time to experiment with printing in Linux. I have a (brand new) Epson C88. Installing the printer was dead simple on my Ubuntu Dapper system. It was simply a menu selection of System->Administration->Printing. Then I clicked 'New Printer' and it autodetected my Epson C88 and installed it.

So printing from OpenOffice or other apps just worked. But what about photo printing? How about printing from the Gimp?

So I fired up the Gimp, opened up a photo and selected File->Print. What opened up in front of me surprised me. It was a dialog box with every single option (if not more) that Epson's own dialog had provided for me in Windows. Only it was laid out better to my tastes - no more advanced menus hiding and showing choices. It just gave me all the important settings to play with. Very nice. I selected my paper, print quality, resolution, alignment and positioning and voila, out came a wonderful print every bit as good as what I had done on Windows.

I was impressed (and relieved to be honest). Now I'm not sure how easy it will be to maintain the printer from within Linux (clean nozzles etc..) but I already know of one command line utility that gives me the ink levels in percentages. I have to explore that command further. I believe there are options for doing nozzle checks and print head cleaning cycles.

Here's a screenshot of my desktop showing the print dialog from within Gimp:

$72.00 in Ink for your $85.00 Printer.. Huh??

It was bound to happen sooner or later. There I was, standing in line at Staples pondering why it was that I had entered the store in search of ink cartridges and was now about to walk out with a brand new printer. This is my story.

Approximately 5 years ago I bought an Epson C80 inkjet. It was not the sexiest printer, but it had several things going for it: great quality photo printing on matte paper, great quality black text at high print speeds, and pigment based inks. It did not produce the same quality glossy photos as some of it's dye-based brethren, but almost all the prints I made on it were normally displayed under glass or stored away. And many times, a matte photo actually looks better under a glass frame than a glossy photo anyway. The big benefit of using pigment based inks being that the prints are significantly more resistant to fading than many of those created on a dye-based printer. Hang one dye-based and one pigment-based print on your fridge for a year. You will see the difference.

Regardless, the C80 was a great printer. It finally started to go south about a year ago. So at that time I weighed my choices of moving upscale to the Epson R800 or R1800 printers. These are full-on photo printers with pigment-based inks but much better glossy output than the C80 and significantly better photo resolution. In fact I inspected prints from these printers at a photography shop and was blown away. But I really didn't want to pay $499.00 for a letter sized printer. So at that time I decided to purchase the latest C88 printer for 400 bucks less(!!) and wait for the R800 prices to come down (a year later and they still haven't !!!) Anyway, the C88 seemed to have similar specs to my original C80 printer albeit with lower quality construction. I have used this printer happily for the past year or so.

Now since moving to Linux - you knew it had to be involved here somewhere didn't you ;) - I've been a little hesitant to pursue the whole printing issue. It hasn't been on the top of my list. Consequently I didn't do a heck of a lot of printing. Well now that I actually have time to investigate it, I find that my print heads are out of whack, almost empty, semi-dried out and not working well at all.

So off to Staples I go to get some replacement cartridges. By the way, this printer (like the C80) has separate ink cartridges for C,M,Y, and K. It turns out that they don't have any cartridges for the C88 left in stock. Except for a single cyan cartridge. Hmmf. Out of luck.

The next day, I head to a different Staples store. Making a bee-line straight for the printer cartridge display (these stores are so bloody identical aren't they), I find to my utter amazement that they are out of C88 cartridges as well! There are tons of cartridges for the larger more expensive Epsons but the little rod hangers are completely devoid of plasma for my lowly C88 printer.

Turning around and about to walk out, I decide to peruse down the printer aisle just to see what the current printing options are like, and lo and behold I see my Epson C88 on display for $99.00. But more importantly, just beside it, I spot a printer labeled Epson C88+. Not sure what the '+' means (still not) but it's on special for $84.99!

Now as everyone knows, Epson, HP, Canon etc. are just like Gillette in that they're making money off the blades and not the razors so to speak. So a quick tally in my head gives (3 colour cartridges at $16.00 each and a single black cartridge at about $24.00) puts me at $72.00 to refill my existing printer. Is the extra 13 bucks for the new printer (which comes with ink) worth it? I for one am willing to pay a little extra to avoid aggravation. Heck, the name even says '+'. That's gotta be good!

So I decided to save myself another trip to Staples later this week and quite possibly further aggravation, by buying the Epson C88+ almost solely for the ink. It was bound to come to this I guess.

Interestingly, here's my best recollection of the conversation I had with the clerk immediately after he got the printer box from way up high on the shelf:

clerk: "There you go sir."

Me: "Thanks."

Clerk: "Are you interested in purchasing our extended service plan?"

Me: " Uh, nope. Thanks."

Clerk: "But it will get you service and maintenance for a full year"

Me: "No, really I'm not interested in the warranty. I'm interested in spending
the least amount possible today ."

Clerk: " It may prove worthwhile if something goes wrong with the printer."

Me: "The printer itself is only ten bucks more than the ink. So every time I need new ink I could replace the printer itself if it's not working right."

Clerk: "Hehe, yeah I guess so."

Me: "Thanks for your time."

So there you have it. I've been waiting for a time when it's cheaper to buy a new printer than the replacement ink. That time is almost here.