Two years using Linux and I’m in computing heaven

This morning I wanted to scan an image, so I fired up Simple Scan in Ubuntu and clicked the scan button (by the way, using my cheap CanoScan LiDE 20 for which there was no 64-bit Windows 7 support for quite some time – now supported with a 10 MB driver/software download – but which Ubuntu supports out-of-the-box with no effort on my part). As soon as I see the picture on screen I decide to see if I can just stop it there and save what I want. Lo and behold, it doesn’t complain, I crop the image and click save, and it just saves without having to scan the image again like most dumb-ass commercial scanning packages. Very impressed.

I then decide that the image is a little too big, and not wanting to fire up The GIMP like I have been doing until now, I decide to search for a better way. A short Google search later and I find the nautilus-image-converter add-on to Ubuntu’s file manager. A mere 30 KB download using the Synaptic Package Manager (Add/Remove Programs on steroids for you Windows slaves) and a re-login later and I’m resizing images with ease.

If you search for “free image resizer windows 7” you get quite a lot and the only link I could safely say is free of viruses and spyware is Google Picasa, but since it appears in the Ads section, anybody with half a brain should be wary these days (except Google in this case). Search for any Windows software and you’re more likely to get spyware than not. Being a Linux user I don’t have that problem because my software only comes from a trusted source, and not the likes of or

I started using Linux seriously exactly two years ago when I happily took the buggy Windows Vista off my media centre PC and installed Mythbuntu 8.10. At the time I had to tinker a little to get my remote control working and a few other things but since installing 10.10 last weekend, I found it was an absolute cinch! By default it installed Samba and configured the same shares I did two years ago, there was an option for my remote control, and it looks more polished than before. The only thing I did as before was enable low noise amplification on my TV card. And since the transmitted digital TV guide in Australia is pretty decent now, I don’t even need to install Shepherd, which has served me very well. The new version of MythTV even comes with a Python script that automatically downloads matching artwork for my favourite TV recordings such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. My brother has been complaining about his unstable Windows 7 Media Center install (six months old). I might have to burn him an ISO of Mythbuntu. So, I wouldn’t even go back to Windows Media Center now if Microsoft paid me!

In the past I have said some very unpleasant things about PHP but now it’s all I use. It’s true that its function names are all over the place and everything is in the global namespace, but it’s just so darn convenient and widespread. Much like VB was looked down upon in the Windows world as a toy language, it didn’t change the fact that it made people’s lives easy and therefore became very popular. As far as languages go I’d really like to find the time to read the dead-tree edition of Programming Clojure that I bought (under the influence of the proselytisation of a better programmer than myself), but at the end of the day it’s all about results, and with PHP I’m more productive. Now I’m mixing PHP on the server with Ext JS on the client thanks to another good book, Learning Ext JS. I can’t see me installing a Windows Server at home any time soon.

If an operating system requires me to install anti-virus software then I’m going somewhere else. Using a virus scanner gives you a false sense of security and doesn’t do much except drastically slow down your computer. One of the best articles I’ve ever read on why Windows sucks big time is The Six Dumbest Ideas in Computer Security. Windows commits most of the sins mentioned and even with things like User Account Control I still wouldn’t use Windows 7 at home. You would have to pry Linux from my cold, dead, hands if anybody wanted me to stop using it :-)

Custom keyboard layout for entering Latin characters

I started a Graduate Diploma in Humanities at the University of New England this year and got sick of my Open Office macro toolbars for entering special characters. So, after some googling, I decided that a custom keyboard layout would be my only salvation. So, here’s an installer created under 64-bit Windows 7 (that should work for 32-bit as well) that probably also works in Vista, I’d be willing to bet. Not sure about Windows XP, though (had to restore an Acronis image of my C: drive yesterday and I couldn’t be bothered installing XP Mode again to find out!).

Download: MF Latin Keyboard (250 KB)

Once installed, you’ll get to see a Language Bar at the bottom-right of your Windows Taskbar (more info here if your third eyelid just came down). Unfortunately, since Microsoft don’t regard Latin as a language anybody in their right mind would speak or use, there’s no way to change the description. So, since my main keyboard is “English (Australian)” and my custom keyboard is an adaptation of an existing keyboard layout, it’ll appear as “English (United States)” for us Aussies. This might be confusing for those in the United States, however, so Americans might prefer to download the Latin.klc file on which I based the installer, open it using the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator, and assign it to another language so you can at least tell them apart (maybe “Latvian”? almost looks like “Latin”).

Whenever you need to type a letter with a macron or a plain, old, accent, you first have to switch to the different keyboard in the Language Toolbar for the application you’re using. So, do that first! Then, whenever you want to get an “a” with a macron, just type a left-square-bracket before you press “a” and Bob’s your uncle: ā. This will mean that you have to press left-square-bracket twice if you actually want one of those. Similarly, to get an “a” with an accent, press the back-tick/tilde key (`~) before pressing “a”, and then you get: á. The letters I’ve enabled this way are as follows: āēīōūȳ, ĀĒĪŌŪȲ, áéíóú, and ÁÉÍÓÚ.

I also cleared out the existing dead keys in the “English (United States)” template with which I started, so this keyboard might not be for you if you want to type even more special characters. I just didn’t like the idea of turning my apostophe into a dead key! Also, the letters with macrons are actually unicode, so you’ll be typing a hybrid document, probably not into an old DOS editor, though :-) It won’t like that.

Happy accentuating and macronising!

Crappy Linux Twitter Clients

I’ve about had it with the range of Twitter clients on offer in Linux. Twitux seems capable of producing nothing but “Timeline Parse Error” messages these days, so I went looking for something else. Found two possibilities: gTwitter and Gwibber. Judging by the screenshots, Gwibber is a screen real-estate hog, so I don’t think I’ll bother with that. So that leaves gTwitter. More disappointment in store, it seems…

I install gTwitter and land at a preference window, which is fine. Entered what I thought were my credentials but they didn’t work. The gTwitter window says “Click on the Preferences button to enter username and password” but there is no such button. There’s a refresh, and a paint-brush icon in the “What are you doing?” text field, but no preferences button. I try right-clicking in the humungous top area where it says “Connection failed!” but nothing shows. The “Connection failed!” message is actually a button that loads a web page; no thanks. Clicking on the icon of a PC with two screens simply toggles the humungo-area between error message and a “Name:” label and nothing else. No sign of a “Preferences button” as advertised.

Turns out there’s an icon in the panel at the top of my screen that I have to right-click on to then get to a preferences menu! Grrr! Now since I paid the princely sum of $0.00 dollars for my Ubuntu setup, I don’t really have much recourse, but come on! It’s crapware like this that makes you wonder how Linux will ever win over the masses. I should have expected it, though, since gTwitter depends on Mono, which provides the .NET plague especially for Linux.

Oh, and now that I’ve just started Twitux one more time to confirm I got the error message right, the little bitch decides to work this time! Why on earth has it been such a right pain in the you-know-what for days on end now, and it’s only after I go flirting with another crappy Twitter client that it realises it has to put out to keep me? Crikey! Sometimes computers really piss me off!

Quick and dirty jQuery centred tabs

It appears that there isn’t a way to centre the tabs for jQuery.UI, unless you’re prepared to resort to quick and dirty hacks like this one I just cobbled together:

window.onresize = function()
    var pad = (document.width - 700) / 2;
    $('#tabstrip').css('padding-left', pad + 'px');

You’ll have to give an ID to the first bulleted list at the top of your tabs (the one that makes up the “tabs” themselves); I’ve called mine “tabstrip”. What makes this hack even more dirty than quick is that I’ve hard-coded a value that represents the width of all my tabs. I tried all sorts of things to calculate it on-the-fly but that proved unreliable, so I’m going with what will work best in most situations for the internal-use scenario I have in mind. You might also want to put this code into a separate function and call it from $(document).ready() so that it appears in the right spot when the page loads, too.

Hopefully one of you CSS geniuses out there will tackle this and add the ability to centre the tabs for lazy folks like me. Or even center it if you’re American :-) I’m easy either way.

I’m with Linus: KDE 4 sucks!

A week ago I posted an entry saying that I might use Linux, but I wouldn’t recommend it. A comment to that post by one “JD” said that this was because I have “made bad Linux choices”. Well, having decided to bite the bullet and give Ubuntu with GNOME a try, I’m inclined to agree. KDE might have kept a control-freak like me reasonably happy until now, but compared with Ubuntu’s GNOME, the 4.x variety is just rubbish! Even Linus himself thinks so.

About six weeks ago I switched from Mandriva 2009.0 to openSUSE 11.1, but the problems gradually mounted. Here’s a summary:

  • The hard disk would grind away like a ticking clock when downloading files or streaming video, and would sometimes even lock Firefox or another application until the disk operation had finished. I did try fiddling with swappiness and the I/O scheduler, but none of these made a difference in openSUSE. I hardly ever hear the disk in Ubuntu
  • I couldn’t play audio CDs
  • KDE 4.1.3 would occasionally just die with desktop icons disappearing then all my applications failing to respond; couldn’t even switch to a full terminal to log in
  • Dismounting removable media in Dolphin doesn’t show logical feedback of the change
  • YaST2, even though I said it was better than drakconf, eventually became irritating with its constant refreshing on startup
  • Special effects in KDE 4.x are lame compared to Compiz and aren’t as fast, either
  • The Kicker eventually annoyed me. Yes, I could have switched to the old style, but it just added to the feeling one gets when a product “just feels crap” all over
  • Audacious is available by default in Ubuntu’s repositories and I didn’t have to use a third-party Packman repo to get it
  • Power management for my Dell 2407WFP-HC monitor actually works in Ubuntu. In openSUSE I had to keep switching it off and on all the time if I didn’t want to waste power. After six weeks of this the button doesn’t work anymore and I’ve had to arrange an exchange with Dell
  • After installing VirtualBox in Ubuntu, I didn’t have to reboot for it to work. Not that this is major but I had to reboot in openSUSE for some reason
  • Auto-completion of emails in Kontact didn’t work. Now that I’ve switched to Thunderbird, things are better
  • K3b couldn’t eject burnt DVDs half the time

A problem that I’ve had for some time was the clipboard breaking whenever I ran VirtualBox but I eventually discovered that updating the guest additions to the current version fixed it (no more “ŸŸ” pasting only, yay!) so I can’t blame either Mandriva or openSUSE for that, but I think VirtualBox should detect old tools and notify the user.

So, I now have none of the above problems in Ubuntu 8.10 (I went with the 64-bit version, and so far, no hassles, apart from having to add a -vm switch to my Eclipse icon telling it which Java version to use for Aptana). That’s not to say that there aren’t some things I’d prefer were different in GNOME, so here goes:


  • Can’t drag/drop files onto buttons in the pathbar (have to open a tab first then drag to that tab)
  • I wish there was a List View size between 33% and 50%
  • No rubber-band file selection in List View (this has prevented me from using a GNOME-based distro for ages, but since everything else works so flawlessly in Ubuntu, this is a sacrifice worth making)
  • Pause/resume for file copy operations (and a bit more information) would be nice
  • Needs a way to hide some places in the left column (like partitions I haven’t bothered to format yet)
  • Beeps when deleting files – very annoying! (have to turn off default beep completely!)
  • Doesn’t show current directory size down the bottom


  • It would be nice to be able to see if a package was 32 or 64-bit in Synaptic
  • Ctrl+Tab instead of Ctrl+Alt+Page_Up/Down would be better in gedit
  • You can’t drag/drop files out of File Roller into Nautilus (or anywhere else)
  • Transmission is too basic, even by GNOME standards, and needs a pause/resume all menu item in the tray icon. Just an observation, since I’ve gone with Deluge anyway

Having got those off my chest, I’ve reached the point with KDE 4.x that even these GNOME annoyances are now minor in my view, and I’m prepared to live with them to get an operating system as near perfect as Ubuntu. Even the fonts seem to look better than in openSUSE or Mandriva, which always irked me in KDE. Maybe it was the distro’s choice of fonts, I don’t know; all I care about is the fact that there can be no question in my mind now that Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution for a reason: it just oozes quality! KDE and their distributions are going to have to do a damned fine job before they’ll entice me back now.