Archive for category Technology

Simple Todo’s

I like my lists. I also like to keep them simple. Sites like, rememberthemilk.com, todoist.com and other are great for people that like that level of record keeping. The problem I have with them is that I spend more time organizing my todo’s that actually doing the todo’s. It’s actually a character flaw of mine, I like to monkey with features so I endlessly tinker. I actually enjoy installing new software just to see how the developer implemented standard features, or even new ones. Like a graphic designer trolling the web looking for inspiration.

When Gina Trapani put this out, I loved it! I do a fair amount of work from the command line so it was always available, but then I also do work on my desktop. Which brings me to my number one annoyance with computers, task switching. Yes, it’s really not a huge thing, but nothing annoys me more than trying to flip through my apps looking for what I was doing 10 seconds ago then totally forgetting what I was doing in the first place. For some odd reason task switching is a trigger for my ADD to kick in at high volume.

IMG_20131204_194637_534 For this end, I love keyboard shortcuts and finding the fastest way possible to switch between programs, having 3 screens helps too 🙂 But Ubuntu really helps out with the Unity app shortcuts as well.

Now I found this little gem so I can keep my todo’s even more conveniently located. I haven’t tried it out yet but here’s hoping I can remember it when I get home.

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The move from Google Voice

So this happened.. http://blog.obihai.com/2013/10/important-message-about-google-voice.html

Over a year ago I dropped the standard POTS line and went with and OBI100 and Google voice. This worked very well and I had no problems recommending this service to others. I even set up my wife’s parent with this service. Then the walls came crashing down as Google publicly announced stopping support of XMPP, the protocol used by the Obi device. What to do?

Thankfully, I don’t have to port my number out of Google voice. That part of the service isn’t going away. I can still have my number in GV and have it ring another number(s). *whew, that was a relief, I’ve used that number for a long time and I would hate to lose it due to some issue with a port. The second issue was who to start using for VOIP service, I really didn’t want to go back to using phone service from a local POTS provider.. most because I am really cheap. So I went with Anveo to start since I already had E911 service set up with them (since GV does support any sort of E911 functionality) The issue quickly became I couldn’t make heads or tails of the Anveo website. It just wasn’t clear what I could sign up for and what it was going to cost me. I finally came to the conclusion that there was a monthly charge for a DID (I needed phone number for GV to forward to), then the E911 monthly charge, and a $.005 charge per outgoing minute for US calls. This really didn’t sound too bad so I decided to give a try for a month or so.

The first thing I noticed with Anveo was the horrible call quality. I thought this might be my service provider (RCN) so I had them replace the modem and do all sorts of tests. Nothing seemed to work and the call quality was infringing on unusable. Then the final straw came. I found out that my kids couldn’t call my cell phone (Verizon) from the house phone. The error was “service provider call rejected, reason 500” After some Googling I found that Anveo’s terms of service allows them to block any outgoing call with carriers that too high of a transfer rate, what ever that means. So they basically get to block who ever they feel like, whenever they feel like it. That’s a deal breaker.

I’ve moved away from Anveo to VOIP.ms currently and thus far I don’t have any issues. The call quality has been great and there hasn’t been any blocked calls. It’s slightly more expensive that Anveo but still leagues cheaper than a standard phone line. It’s $4.95/month for the DID and $1.50 for E911 so $6.45/month total. Not a bad deal for the level of service so far.

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Ubu-apps and the like

I couldn’t think of anything to name this post. I just got done reading this thread started by Colon Watson of Canonical. It’s a little dry off-hand so there is a nice summary by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. Long story short, Ubuntu is most likely going to be changing the way apps are packaged, distributed and installed.

To the Linux die-hard, this is nothing short of sheer blasphemy. Spending all evening resolving dependencies on obsolete libraries or some odd cyclical dependency to get an app to install is part of the badge of honor all *nixies wear with elite pride. The thought that an application would be wholly self contained and the only real dependency would be on the base system.. is.. is… an awful lot like OSX does things. No really, have you ever cracked open one of those magical .app program/dirs on a Mac? They are a little self-contained ecosystem of libraries and directory structure that transcends standard application paradigms of Windows and Linux with the libraries being maintained by the OS.

I can see this being hugely popular and convenient for Ubuntu as they spread out from PC’s to phones and tablets. I wonder if Apple ever thought to patent their application structure, and since I am thinking about it, I wonder if that is even something patentable? I hope it isn’t, I dislike software patents enough, and I applaud Google’s efforts to shield the rest of the world from patent trolls. So I suppose we will see how Ubuntu’s efforts pan out. I for one really hope it works. Application installation has always been a pain in Linux. Granted, it seems to work well enough, but the first time something goes wrong you see just how flawed it really is.

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Ubuntu dumbed down, no, really??

I just read this article that is claiming that Ubuntu is starting to be dumbed down. http://www.linuxinsider.com/rsstory/77894.html So the new 13.04 release is getting ‘meh’ reviews since it locks the user out of much of the configurability of the operating system. Really?? They are just coming to this conclusion, Ubuntu has been in the wild for more than a couple years here and it’s managed to do something NONE of the other distros has, getting main stream (Read, Steam) gaming to come to the platform. Granted 13.04 does seem like a pretty minimal release, without many new features, but you are going to get that with a static release schedule. Sometimes stuff just isn’t ready to be released. Better to release a small update than a broken one.

For wide acceptance Linux HAS to be dumbed down a bit. There’s nothing worse than introducing someone to Linux (who is used to Windows) and I have to drop to the command line to get something configured properly. I’ve said this before, if you want Linux to be more than a geek toy you must remove the need for someone to use the command line to configure their system. If simply must configure your system and monkey with the guts..Debian hasn’t been discontinued, and you can really get into the guts there. Or better, yet Gentoo, or even better yet Linux From Scratch!!

Really, Ubuntu has done a ton for getting Linux into the mainstream. The mainstream desktop that is, RedHat still reigns supreme in the Linux server market and they contribute more code back into the baseline kernel than Ubuntu. This is despite the fact that I really dislike RHEL or CentOS for that matter, you can read my rant about CentOS here. This is just personal preference too, many other admins like RHEL (poor bastards)

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And now a Mac

I’ve been complaining that I can’t run Linux at work since they moved to the new VPN. I’ve tried time and again to get it to work but it is a proprietary system that only has a client for OSX and Winders. I’ve been using Win7, which all in all isn’t too bad, for about the last year. I was talking with one of the newer guys that got a shiny new MacBook Pro when he started about building our project. I told him that when I kick off a build I generally have about 17 minutes of browsing the web time since the build process basically renders the computer almost unusable. He was dumbfounded that it too me 17 minutes to build our project because it only took him around 3 minutes for a full clean and build. Surely he was misinterpreting what I was doing, there is no way the build times could be that different, hey, it’s all just Java.. Sure enough, he showed me and the project built faster than I had ever seen.

He started up IntelliJ in less than 20 seconds and I got pissed. Usually when I get in in the morning the first thing I do is start up IntelliJ, then I go get coffee, go to the bathroom then commando crawl back to my desk just in time for IntelliJ to have started up and begun indexing my project. I immediately put in a request for a Mac.

I got my shiny new MacBook Pro a couple weeks later and eagerly started setting up my development environment on it. I gleefully flipped the bird at my old PC every time I ran the native command line or built one of my projects. So far everything has been going swimmingly, I have completely transferred all my work to the Mac and I’ve been working off it exclusively for the past couple of weeks. There are only a couple of things that make me raise and eyebrow about how the Mac works

1) What the hell did Apple do to the Unix file system?? What is this /Library and /System and other odd folders doing in my root? Best just to delete them since they look erroneous (joking.. don’t really do this, it really messes with your system)

2) Task switching, I know it’s a little nit picky, but I seriously can’t Cmd+tab to a minimized program? Why show it in the list if selecting it isn’t going to do anything.

3) Does everything seriously cost money on a Mac? I guess the notion of Free as in beer hasn’t made it’s way here yet. Yes, I’m a bit on the cheap side, but hey, I use a free operating system I’m not going to pay $5.99 for a better task switcher for my work Mac.

4) The command and control keys need to be put into a ring and only one of them gets out alive. Seriously Apple, which one is it going to be? It seems Apple wanted to replace the control key at a system level with command but all the application developers disagreed and continued to use the control key for all their shortcut commands. This is an area of endless frustration for me, it usually takes me 3 tried to copy anything then another 2 to paste it.

Thats it for now, I’ll be sure to post some more annoyances in the future. So far I like the Mac better than my PC, but it isn’t as perfect as the Mac fan-boys would lead you to believe.

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Mintty to the rescue

I am stuck on a Win7 machine at work. I used to run Linux on it but then the company changed their VPN to this Windows and sorta-Mac supported only solution. I had to dump the penguin so I could have access outside the office, kinda important that. So yeah, other than my world passing me by at half the normal pace there is little difference, oh wait no, that’s completely inaccurate. The thing I miss above all else is the command line. I tried to replace it with the Windows Powershell but I seriously didn’t feel like learning everything from scratch, I did give it a concerted try though.

Just for comparison, take all the nifty bash/zsh commands you love and enjoy on a daily basis, now rename all of them, and don’t get cute by naming them something easy to remember. No, use something long, and make sure there are plenty of hyphens. Now take all the options you were used to passing to those commands and rename them too, almost there hang with me. Now close your eyes and just mash your head against the keyboard to get a rough idea of what it feels like to replace the Linux command line with Powershell.

Well I did what any self respecting Linux lover would do when relegated to Win-land, I installed Cygwin. Yes, that bastardization of *nix on a Windows shell. Or something, I couldn’t come up with anything snarky there. Regardless, running Cygwin offers a glimpse of home without actually letting you get there. It’s slow sure, but it offers enough familiarity that I actually enjoy using it over the endless point and click of a standard Windows user experience. The standard cygwin command line is terrible, running RXVT native makes it manageable. However, I just found Mintty! It’s sort of like Putty (based on some Putty code I gather) and with the proper amount of tweaking can actually result in a likeable experience. Couple that with screen and I hardly miss Linux…who am I kidding, I still go home at night and just poke around my laptop (running Xubuntu) just to feel better about myself.

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XFCE for an old laptop

On one of my previous posts I talk about how I was enjoying Gnome 3, and while it was a much better experience than previously, it still ran a bit slow on my aging Dell D810. I decided to try XFCE, it was always a bit too minimal for my likes. The XFCE team certainly hasn’t been idle since I tried it last…3 years ago. First off, it runs great on my laptop. The old embedded ATI X600 GPU isn’t supported by either Xorg or ATI so I hardware acceleration was out of the question. However, XFCE does do compositing but it’s so minimal that I didn’t notice any sort of performance degradation when I switched it on. So while I did enjoy Gnome Shell I had to uninstall it because I am really liking XFCE.

Orage, the default calendar application is a little odd, its mostly useful, but not terribly helpful overall. It’s almost like it was created as an afterthought, but then started to grow into something slightly more useful, but has never gotten the attention it really needed to become a full fledged effort. Almost like it was a series of minor efforts to add tiny pieces of slightly connected functionality. Anyway, there are some redeeming aspects to it, like it can import .ics files and display daily events and appointments from Google Calendar (Found this useful: http://mwallace.info/2009/08/read-google-calendars-from-orage/)

Battery management is more intelligent as well. If you upgrade to the beta 0.6 version of XFCE terminal it supports dropping down ala Guake terminal, which I find indispensible in everyday usage. One last thing to note, is the keyboard editor is great. It is minimal but makes it super easy to define define keyboard shortcuts for running what-ever you want. The main problem with this is that a lot of XFCE only programs don’t come with a default set of keybindings, you have to read the documentation to find out what you want it to do then go into the keyboard editor and define your keyboard shortcut to run it. Not a deal breaker, but a little odd the first time you encounter it.

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New life for an old lapdock

The thought of a ‘pocket computer’ really intrigues me. Being able to carry my computer around in my pocket but then being able to plug it into an larger dock and get a full-sized experience out of it sounds really cool. Imagine my excitement when Motorola came out with the Lapdock. I was on Verizon so I couldn’t get in on the original Atrix, but I got a Razr and immediately went out and got the Lapdock 500. Then there was the disappointment of actually running the Webtop application for the first time. From what I could tell they booted up a full linux distro then tried to run Firefox ontop of it. To say it was pokey is a complete understatement, it was unusable. However, I had heard that the Razr was due for a major upgrade in ICS and so I kept my fingers crossed.

The Ice Cream Sandwich update came and I hesitantly plugged the Razr into the Lapdock. It switched display mode and started behaving like a tablet. The keyboard worked good, and it was finally usable as a netbook. That’s all I really wanted, just a simple netbook-like experience, nothing crazy. After using it for a while I started to encounter annoyances. The trackpad was on all the time, so when I was typing I would bump it and move the cursor. Sometimes it just freezes, for no reason, so I have to reboot the phone. It was still usable in my opinion thought.

I started thinking about what is going to happen if I were to ever change my phone. Then I realized that the life of the lapdock was tied to the phone. This just wouldn’t do, it’s a nice piece of hardware and I would hate to just have to throw it away. Then I found this article: http://www.theverge.com/2012/6/21/3105822/motorola-lapdock-hacked-raspberry-pi-rikomagic. I should have never doubted the modder community, of course the Raspberry Pi could breathe life into my laptdock! There were other options I had never heard of as well. I am actually looking forward to getting this project going in the near future. We will see if I can follow-up with some articles on my experience. There have to be enough lapdocks out there that someone might find it interesting.

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Gnome 3 and new shows

I’ve been pretty much absent for a while. This is in no small part to me being in the final year of my graduate degree. I am now counting down the day by saying what activity this year will be my last whilst enrolled in school (ie. last Christmas, last January 9th, etc.) We got a one of those shiny new iMac’s for Christmas for my wife. That left the old family laptop available to be re-purposed (read:liberated) to be my own personal playground. You know what that means, I started installing Linux on it.

I tried Mint, it didn’t live up to the hype, then I tried Debian, still too rough around the edges for my liking. Then finally I installed Ubuntu, again. While it’s a very polished distro, it ran like crap on my old laptop. I tried shutting down as many desktop effects as I could but it still lagged pretty bad. I liked XFCE but I decided to give Gnome 3 another shot, or Gnome shell or what ever people call it. I remember when I first tried it out when the 3.0 version came out I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so I quietly uninstalled it and went on my merry way. Now, version 3.8 is out and let me say I am nothing short of impressed. It does present a paradigm shift in how you interact with your desktop, but it took me about 5 minutes to get used to it and now I am zipping around faster than I ever could on Windows/Unity/Gnome2/etc. Most impressive thing for me is that I can interact with the desktop without needing to use my mouse. That’s huge for me, the less I need to use the mouse the faster I go. Rooting through menu’s and sub-menu’s and sub-sub-menu’s takes time and is really annoying. I tend to interact with the same 5-10 programs in any given day so typing their name is faster than rooting through a hierarchical menu system.

It’s snappy too. My laptop is pushing 8 years old with only 2 GB ram and an aging processor, but the whole experience feels fast and I have never experienced desktop lag. Forget what everyone said when this DE first came out, the Gnome devs have been working to make this a quality product and its showing. I installed a few extensions and now I feel right at home.

Oh, and one a side note. The whole time I was messing with this, I was watching past episodes of the CW’s new show Arrow. I didn’t start watching it since most major networks have a tendency to really screw up super hero shows. After it got a ton of really good reviews from places that I would have expected to eviscerate it, I decided to give it a shot. Long story short, this series wrocks. Finally a gritty super hero series that isn’t Melrose Place with capes. I had to pay Amazon on-demand to watch the first couple of episodes (well worth it) but then I was able to pick up the last couple episodes on Hulu. Highly recommended if you want super hero action that doesn’t suck.

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OBi100 setup part 2

In my previous post I got the OBi installed and set up with my temporary Google Voice number. Porting my number from Tracfone to Google Voice was really quick and painless, in total it took about 2 days for it to complete. My landline was now associated with my Google Voice and I discarded the old temporary number I was provisioned from GV when I began the process. I powered on the OBi and dialed my old home number, and it worked! I was now able to receive calls at our home number through Google Voice. With that I quickly cancelled the phone service I had bundles through the cable company where I have cable and internet. Oddly, for the service being a ‘free’ add on to my account, I saved $12 a month in taxes and fee and an additional $10 because I dropped the service..like I said, odd.

One last thing I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to do it or not. I know that Google Voice does not support 911 service. However, the first thing I do when someone tells me you can’t do something is look around and see if that is really the case. Turns out Google Voice REALLY doesn’t support 911, however, it can be configured on the OBi. First off you have to create an account with another SIP provider that does do e911 (stands for enhanced 911, which basically means more information is pushed to the dispatcher when you call). There are a number of providers, but I decided to sign up with Anveo.com. I read some forums that most people had a fairly positive experience with them, so I signed up with them. The account was free, but e911 costed $0.8 per month or $9.2 per year, reasonable for peace of mind IMO.

First thing to do was create my free account with Anveo. I could have signed up with them rather than Google Voice at that point, they do the same thing, but everything that is free at GV costs money at Anveo. Next I had to put some money in my account so I could sign up for the e911 service, they accept Paypal. Once the funds cleared I was able to enter my home address information. Next I had to set up the Anveo account on my Obi on SP2, thankfully the Obitalk site come ready to connect to Anveo right away, I just had to choose them as a SIP provider and fill out the required information.

The final step was to make an actual test 911 call. I found my locale’s 911 call center through this site. Once I found the call center servicing my area, I called the 911 operations manager and requested a test 911 call. I read a number of horror stories about how people would just call 911 without scheduling the test and having the police show up at their front door. I got a hold of the operations manager, who surprisingly knew exactly what I was talking about when I requested the test, and scheduled the test. I have to admit I was a little nervous calling 911, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work or exactly what was going to happen. I dialed 911 and waited…and waited some more.. and continued to wait, the call finally went through after about 40 seconds of dead silence from the phone. The 911 operator picked up and I identified myself and that this was a test. The operator didn’t have address information for me, and the number showing in their system was some odd number I had never heard of before. I collected as much information as I could from the dispatcher the hung up.

I contacted Anveo support and it turns out the number the 911 dispatcher saw was in fact a callback number that they assigned me, though it wasn’t my home number. I test dialed the number and sure enough it rang my home phone. As for the long wait to connect and my information not being available to the dispatcher, I am still looking into what might have happened. One suspicion is the proxy location for Anveo was set to Dallas and I changed it to Montreal since it is much closer. I haven’t tested again to see if this makes a difference.

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