On the road but still “in the cloud”

(This is my column for Sun.Star Cebu for tomorrow, Oct. 27)

Two days before I was to run in the Smart Subic International Marathon (SIM) 2009, I finally learned how to properly tie my shoes. It’s hilarious if it isn’t excruciating to have to bend to retie shoelaces that come undone after running several kilometers.

All my life, I have been apparently tying my shoelaces using a Granny Knot, which easily comes undone. I wouldn’t have known any better had I not started running. In longer runs, my shoelaces always come undone and I’d cringe in pain every time I had to bend and retie it.

It turned out that there’s a better way to tie your shoelaces to make sure that these do not come undone. The trick is to use a Reef Knot and a Runner’s World video shows you just how to do that.

Learning how to tie my shoes via a Runner's World video
TYING MY SHOE. Learning how to correctly tie my shoes using a Reef Knot, which doesn’t come undone, using a Runner’s World instructional video viewed through a Smart Bro USB modem connection.

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From here on, Heron

Today, the new Ubuntu Linux version—8.04 the Hardy Heron—will be released. I have been using the beta or test version for the last two weeks and have found Ubuntu to be easier to use and install and its whole computing experience better than ever.

I had initially decided to stay away from using the beta version—the amount of updates you have to download on the run-up to the final version can be huge. I had several urgent tasks and didn’t want to deal with regularly updating my laptop.

Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron HARDY HERON running on my MSI S260 laptop. Click to enlarge photo.

But Chin Wong made me do it. The devil, in turn, made him do it, or at least that line kept playing in his head as he installed the beta version in his desktop computer. During the installation, he had problems with sound in his system.

A day later, however, he posted a fix to the problem.

That broke my resolve to stay away from the Hardy Heron beta and proceeded to install it, as opposed to upgrade, in my MSI S260 laptop.

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Going cold turkey while setting up a hotspot

With my wife and I now using laptops as primary workstations at home, we decided to use a Wi-Fi router to share our PLDT myDSL connection. The snaking network cables were threatening to trip us and our kids.

I bought a Linksys WRT54G after reading about its storied history. Mark Stephens, writing as Rober X. Cringely, calls the WRT54G and its Linux system “The Little Engine That Could.”

Linksys wrt54g LINKSYS WRT54G. I used this Wi-Fi router to set up a wireless broadband connection at home. Click to enlarge image.

In my case, it was “the sleep-deprived blogger who couldn’t with the little engine that could.” I did eventually set it up—and I’m now using it to publish this post while downloading tons of files—but only after I went Internet-deprived cold turkey, at home at least.

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Installing Photoshop on Ubuntu Linux

Now, what do I do? That was the first thought that formed in my mind when I first opened Gimp about 5 or 6 six years ago in an Internet cafe on F. Ramos St. in Cebu City.

I was given the grand tour on Linux and open source software by Mike Schmeisser, a chain-smoking German geek, in his Internet cafe. His Internet cafe ran, save for one unit, solely on Linux. I interviewed Mike for a story on open source software and Linux and he invited me to his cafe to check his units.

Photoshop in Ubuntu Linux PHOTOSHOP ON UBUNTU LINUX. Adobe Photoshop 7.0 running in my Linux laptop using Wine. Click on photo to view larger image.

Having been reared on image editing with Photoshop, I couldn’t find my way in Gimp. I’m not really a graphics person but I use Photoshop often for editing photos, editing images of screen activity for tutorials, and creating blog and website headers.

I tried various open source software after Mike’s introduction and even stuck with using many of them. But not Gimp. I once tried Gimpshop, a modification of the program to replicate the look and feel of Adobe Photoshop but then I found myself using Photoshop after a few days of playing with it.

More than a month after I switched to Ubuntu Linux in my laptop, I found that I missed having Photoshop in it for certain tasks. I did manage to create a blog header using Gimp but it took me at least ten times longer than it would have taken me in Photoshop. I had a hard time even resizing images in layers or removing backgrounds of photos.

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Screencasting in Ubuntu

I’ve done my first screencast in Ubuntu using gtk-record My Desktop, a tool that records desktop sessions in Linux. I’ve long wanted to do screencasts in Ubuntu ever since I installed Feisty Fawn or the 7.04 release but I haven’t been successful in my initial attempts.

I first tried capturing desktop sessions into movie files using xvidcap but I couldn’t get it to work properly. All the videos I produced using it were jerky, as if the capture rate is just a frame for every two seconds. I spent days playing around with the settings, to no avail.

I was on the verge of accepting the idea that I may have to use Windows XP and Camstudio to produce screencasts to accompany some of my blog articles when I decided to give gtk-recordMyDesktop a try.

I spotted the program during the days I tried looking for ways to do screencasts in Ubuntu but I just filed it away as something to check later because it produces Ogg-encapsulated Theora-Vorbis files and the free video hosts I wanted to use for screencasts, Vimeo and Revver, do not accept .ogg files. I’m lazy and a non-geek and my impression of video conversions in Linux is that the process is rather complicated. (Blogger’s Note: see update below)

After giving up on making xvidcap, which produces mpeg files, work in my laptop, I tried gtk-recordMyDesktop. I gave it a go after finding out that Blip.tv accepts .ogg files.

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Giving people Ubuntu envy

While preparing for my presentation to the staff of the Sun.Star website last week, I was a bit worried whether Ubuntu Feisty Fawn would detect and work with the office’s LCD projector.

I’m a stickler for backups. I finished my OpenOffice Impress presentation in the laptop and then converted it into a PowerPoint file. I then saved the file in my USB stick and phone’s memory card.

ubuntu presentation PRESENTING WITH UBUNTU. Demonstrating installation, maintenance, and upgrading of WordPress to Sun.Star website staff. Click on photo to enlarge.

My Ubuntu laptop runs an Apache, PHP, MySQL server for local web development and demonstration. I recreated an Apache server on my USB stick using UniformServer in case (dear God no!) I would be forced to use any of the Windows XP units of Sunnex, the department that runs the Sun.Star website.

Just in case I encountered problems, I did a web search for issues with Ubuntu and LCD projectors and then copied possible solutions for different problems. I assumed, correctly it turned out, I wouldn’t be able to access the Internet in the remote Camotes Island resort we were billeted in.

Come presentation time, I was crossing my fingers when I plugged the LCD projector cable into my laptop. I need not have worried. It worked flawlessly.

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Ubuntu makes me work faster in Windows XP

My computing life has improved exponentially with Ubuntu that I try to spend as little time as possible in Windows XP in my office PC. My office PC needs to run Windows because the newsroom uses InDesign and Pagemaker to lay out pages.

I now work faster on Windows XP—faster because I want to get work I can only do there over with so that I can use Ubuntu for other tasks. I can’t have them on at the same time on my office desk because 1.) I was allotted only one LAN cable, 2) the Wi-Fi signal doesn’t cover my part of the office, and 3) I have to “reuse” (that’s a mild way of putting it) IP addresses to connect to the network.

I recently switched my blogging workhorse, an MSI s260, to an Ubuntu-only system after months of running Windows XP. I said in my post that I haven’t stopped saying “wow” up until I posted the article two days ago. Let me update you: wow, wow, and wow.

I haven’t been gushing this profusely since I met my wife. Ubuntu is such a wonderful operating system to use. As I write this post on AbiWord running full screen, Coldplay sings at the background while the system checks for updates. On my “browsing” virtual desktop, Firefox is downloading two files with more than ten websites opened in tabs.

Once in a while, I’d get the urge to rotate my desktop cube just for the heck of it and the playing of the song isn’t interrupted nor is the rendering of the four desktops jerky.

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Showing Windows the door

I’m now running Ubuntu Feisty Fawn beta on my main blogging gear – an MSI S260 laptop – and I haven’t stopped saying “wow” since when I finished installing it late Monday night.

I’ve used Ubuntu before, but mainly as a local server and the experience can be summarized as: boot CD, choose server setup, follow on-screen instructions, configure settings, then connect from my Windows PC.

Ubuntu Feisty Fawn desktop MY NEW WORKSTATION. Ubuntu running on my main blogging gear, an MSI S260 laptop. Click on photo to view larger image.

I’ve never gotten around to using Ubuntu as a desktop despite a long standing entry in my to-do list to do just that. I’ve tried its live CD and tinkered with desktops installed with it but for a long time I lived in a Windows-centric world–office PC, home unit, and laptop. What has stopped me from using Ubuntu sooner is my dependence on such applications as Photoshop and InDesign for newsroom work.

I’ve also been set back by my reliance on the open source Float’s Mobile Agent (FMA) to manage my Sony Ericsson K750i. When I’m at the office, my phone is, more often than not, connected to the PC and being managed by FMA. I use the program to send, receive, and archive messages as well as manage my contacts and calendar entries. When I’m on the field, FMA saves me a lot of time sending messages while writing stories.

FMA currently runs only on Windows but I found an old post in the support forum that said a developer was able to make it run in Linux using Wine.

Last Monday, I decided to wipe out Windows from my laptop and use the Ubuntu Feisty Fawn beta release. The IT staff assigned to the newsroom suggested I use a dual-boot setup and retain a Windows partition but I was bent on having an Ubuntu-only system.

I’m no geek, and the only sudo I know ends with “ko” but with the holidays, I figured I’d have enough time to tinker with my laptop if the installation goes awry.

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Hey, Ubuntu’s sending stickers with its free CDs

I got my Ubuntu 6.06 CDs yesterday and was surprised to find three sheets of cool Ubuntu stickers with the package.

I claimed the package at the Cebu City central post office at the port area and the clerk in charge of releasing the shipments said inquiringly “Ubuntu Linux?” It turns out that they’ve been releasing several Ubuntu CD packages already.

If you’re in Cebu and you want to try Ubuntu, send me a message, I still have one for Mac, a couple for 64-bit processors and several for your regular PC. I also have one sheet of Ubuntu stickers to give away.

If you still haven’t tried a Linux distribution, Ubuntu is a great flavor to start. PC Magazine describes Ubuntu as the “current desktop Linux champ.”

I’ve already tried Ubuntu version 6.06, codenamed “Dapper Drake,” and really liked the ease in setting up a certified Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP server during the install process. With the help of the IT personnel detailed to the Sun.Star Cebu newsroom, we’re using Ubuntu to run a newsroom intranet managed by MediaWiki.
Ubuntu CDs and stickers Ubuntu server running MediaWiki

Do you want to try Ubuntu?

I just got my Ubuntu Breezy Badger CDs yesterday. I’ve started distributing it among newsroom colleagues, telling them to try it out and then pass it on to other people. The live CDs that come with Ubuntu are really great in introducing people to the operating system.

Do you want one? If you’re in Cebu and you want one, send me a note so that we can discuss where I can leave the CDs for you to pick up. Do pass it on after you finish installing it.