Friday, March 27, 2009

Cluttered Desktop?

I prefer to work without icons on my desktop, for the most part. Back when I used Windows XP, I'd have icons strewn across the desktop, but a friend of mine always kept hers clear so that she could more easily enjoy the wallpapers she had installed, and I came to realize that working without desktop icons could be just as efficient as working with them.

Here's a view of my KDE desktop in Mepis 8.0, showing the "MiniMenu" that I created for easy access to a few frequently-used applications.



I do allow certain icons to appear on my desktop, like when I'm creating a quick text file (I'll promptly save the file to the appropriate directory when I'm finished), or like icons for CDs or USB drives that I've inserted. But otherwise, I like to keep the desktop free and clear.

Global Warming Skeptic

While most scientists agree that human activity is adversely affecting the world's climate, skeptics remain. The New York Times did this piece on physicist Freeman Dyson, who has proposed, among other things, that "...whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow."

Whatever your opinion on the matter, you might find Dyson's thoughts to be more level-headed than those of folks who dismiss the idea of "climate change" completely, or say that it's all a "hoax" or a "conspiracy."

GUI Guide

Here's a nice article that discusses Linux GUIs -- helpful to folks who are familiar with Windows or Mac OS-X:

Introduction to the Linux Graphical User Interface

You might also want to check out the other two articles in Will Kraft's series, "The Beginner's Guide to Linux." You'll find links to them at the above-mentioned page.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Ann Arbor News

The Ann Arbor News, the newspaper in my old hometown, will cease operations in July. For the story, see "Ann Arbor News to close in July."

Depressing news for me. My first "paper route" as a boy was an Ann Arbor News route. And while I get most of my news from online sources, any time a newspaper closes, it's a sad day for me.

My first reaction was to renew my home-delivery of my local paper, The Albuquerque Journal. I'm going to enjoy it while I still can.

Command-line-fu

Here's a place where folks are sharing useful Linux commands: command-line-fu.com.

Monday, March 23, 2009

PCLOS 2009

A fairly detailed review of PCLinux2009.1:

http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/pclinuxos-2009.html

Linux is Not Ready for Prime-Time

I remember sometime during the last few months of 2004, when I was first looking into using Linux. An IT guy on my job made the comment that Linux was "not ready for prime-time."

Fast-forward to the present. In the Linux Mint forums thread "Thanks Husse & others, but I am finished with mint and linux," forum member GrayWizardLinux says, "Mint is the best of the distro's but still not ready for prime time!"

First: Dude-man, pluralize the word "distro" with "distros," not "distro's."

Second: The best of all distros? Matter of opinion, of course. I use Mint; I also use Debian, Mepis, and Ubuntu. As for as I'm concerned, there is no "best" distro.

Third: Why, why, why do Linux forum members so frequently feel the need to announce to everyone that they are leaving a particular distro, or bailing on Linux and going back to Windows or to their Macs? Simply to start a flame-war? Does anyone care what GrayWizardLinux uses?

Finally: What the heck is "prime time?" Am I not in "prime-time?" Will I ever be? I mean, I've been using Linux for over five years now, and my primary computers have been free of Windows for at least half that time...

Is Linux for everyone? No. Is Windows for everyone? Is OS-X for everyone? Obviously not, or else everyone would be using Windows, or everyone would be using a Mac.

"Everyone" isn't using Windows or OS-X, though. "Everyone" isn't using Linux, either, but Linux seems to work out fine for millions of people.

I'm one of those millions.

Please spare me the tired clich├ęs. Sorry that Linux didn't work out for you, Gray Wizard. Maybe you're just not ready for prime-time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Mighty ACC

The Atlantic Coast Conference. Toughest conference in the country? You be the judge. The ACC joined the Big East and the Big Ten as the only conferences to get seven teams into the Big Dance. Here's how they fared:

Maryland won, 84-71 over California.
Duke won, 86-62 over Binghamton.
Clemson lost, 62-59 to Michigan.
North Carolina won, 101-58 over Radford.
Florida State lost, 61-59 (OT) to Wisconsin.
Boston College lost, 72-55 to USC.
Wake Forest lost, 84-69 to Cleveland State.

That's right, FOUR teams out of 7 from the ACC knocked out in the first round!

It's too early to say which conferences are gonna do the best. And either Duke or Carolina (or, possibly, Maryland) could still go all the way. But... Well, I hope it's not "the kiss of death" to be saying this now, but the Pac-10 won five of six in the first round...

I'm just sayin'.

Arizona Belongs

Folks should have seen this coming.

Ever since the NCAA Basketball Tournament field was announced, everybody's been complaining that the Arizona Wildcats didn't deserve a spot.

Arizona finished 19-13 on the season. They managed only a 9-9 record in the Pac-10, good enough for a 5th place tie with USC. They lost four of the last five in the regular season, then got bounced 68-56 by Arizona State in the first round of the Pac-10 tourney.

How did they get in?

First of all, the Pac-10 is a pretty good conference, after all. As I mentioned earlier, 6 teams made the field for the Big Dance.

Arizona's "strength of schedule" ranking was 34th in the country. They beat San Diego State, a team many thought should have made the tournament instead of the Wildcats, 69-56. They beat then-#4 Gonzaga, a #4 seed in the tourney, 69-64. They beat Kansas, a #3 seed in the tourney, 84-67. They beat then-#23 Washington, a #4 seed, 106-97.

USC made the field as a #10 seed. UofA owns an 83-76 win over the Trojans. UCLA, a #6 seed, was ranked #11 on Valentines' Day, when Arizona beat them, 84-72.

Wins over five teams that made it to the Big Dance, plus a win over the team (San Diego State) that was being considered for that final spot that went to UofA. I'm sure the tournament committee considered all that when they decided to let UofA in for the (ahem) 25th consecutive year, as a #12 seed.

Then, on top of all the noise Arizona players had to listen to about being selected for the Big Dance, a couple of Utah players (Utah, a #5 seed, was Arizona's first-round opponent in the NCAA Tournament) had to play the "foot-in-mouth" game. Check this out, from Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan's article, "Arizona takes a beating before hitting court":

“I was surprised,” said Luke Nevill, Utah’s 7-foot-2 center. “There were a few more teams that were better than Arizona, strength of schedule- and record-wise. So … yeah. I mean, San Diego State.”

The team Utah beat 52-50 in the Mountain West Conference tournament final.

“There’s no reason San Diego State shouldn’t be in this tournament,” Utah guard Lawrence Borha said. “They got snubbed.”

By Arizona?

“Well,” Borha said, “they were the last ones in, right?”

Hey, now that I'm a resident of Albuquerque, home of the New Mexico Lobos, I want to see the Mountain West teams do well. But I lived in Arizona for almost 25 years. And I've never been a fan of any team from the state of Utah, except when they're busting up somebody from a BCS conference in football.

So, it brings me great joy to report this score from the first round of this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament:

Arizona 84, Utah 71.

Ha. Ha.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Web-based email?

An article at wisegeek.com discusses web-based email, and looks at some of its pros and cons.

I've had GMail and Yahoo Mail accounts for years, and haven't had any problems with them. Web-based email accounts are advantageous for me because I use multiple computers, and multiple operating systems. I don't have to go to any one computer or operating system to check my emails. Also, when I'm away from home, I still have access to my email accounts from any computer that's connected to the internet.

Web-based email's security is questionable; of course, I question the security of any email approach. My feeling is that once you send a message to someone, the security is out of your hands, anyway. But, some web-based email services do offer secure connections. Check out these discussions:

http://lifehacker.com/software/mac-os-x/dont-let-others-listen-in-on-your-email-032565.php

http://lifehacker.com/software/email-apps/secure-webbased-email-032596.php

http://lifehacker.com/software/email-apps/secure-webbased-email-recap-032749.php

Some people also worry about the possibility of a web-based email service crashing and losing all of a person's precious email messages. Interestingly, since I've been using web-based email, I've heard from friends who have had their email disappear, but each of them was using a traditional email address provided by their internet service provider. Hasn't happened to me using GMail or Yahoo Mail, but I realize that it could.

In any case, the remedy is simple: I just save important info and/or email messages to my hard drive. Problem solved.

As the wisegeek article points out, another good reason to have a web-based email account is for all those times when you want to "subscribe to a newsletter, enter a drawing, register at a website, participate in chats, or send feedback to a site..." You might not want to give out your primary email address -- ever heard of spam? A web-based email account provides a perfect "throw-away" email address.

Whether or not you use web-based email, these accounts offer certain advantages. For lots of people, the advantages outweigh the concerns.

Default Appearances

No matter what artwork Linux developers use for their distros, you can bet that someone won't like it.

Ubuntu's brown and orange themes might be the most frequently criticized aspect of that distro. Lots of people love the brown; lots of other people completely despise it and complain about it endlessly. I sometimes wonder if race doesn't have a lot to do with it; is the disgust over Ubuntu's brown greater among folks whose skin color isn't some shade of brown? Could be.

Canonical tries to please the Ubuntu masses, and they've rolled out some new alternative themes for the upcoming release, Ubuntu 9.04 (codenamed Jaunty Jackalope). You can check them out here. Can't wait for the flood of derisive comments at the Ubuntu forums.

Linux Mint's green theme is refreshing to many people; others find it revolting. PCLinuxOS might have the nicest default appearance of any distro, but that doesn't stop folks from expressing displeasure about it.

Mepis users have complained loudly about that distro's default appearances, leading to a huge community effort to beautify things over the past few releases. The latest release, Mepis 8.0, shipped with what struck me as the best-looking Mepis desktop I've seen to date; still, complaints about the artwork abound at the MepisLovers forums.

Like I said, I thought Mepis 8's default appearance was great; for the first time ever, I haven't changed the default colors or scheme. But that's about all I didn't change. As usual, I put in my own wallpapers, completely tweaked the panel, swapped out left- and right-arrow icons, put in a standard KMenu icon to replace Mepis' default one, tweaked the clock's appearance, chose the transparent (dark background) scheme for Konsole, and changed the mouse cursor, among other things.

And that's par for the course. Linux lends itself to so much configuration that I'll bet hardly anyone sticks with the default in any new Linux installation. I couldn't care less what the default appearance is; when I put a new distro in, I feel like I have a blank slate, and I immediately get to work personalizing the desktop.

Why anyone even bothers to complain about a distro's default appearances is beyond me. Change it. You can.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Nobody's Invincible

Last year, for the first time, all four #1 seeds made it to the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Don't bet on it happening again. Here's a look at some of this year's #1 seeds' less shining moments:

Louisville (28-5): Ranked #1 in the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls. The Cardinals got baked at Notre Dame back on February 12th, 90-57.

North Carolina (28-4): #1 AP, #3 USA Today/ESPN. The Tar Heels stumbled against two unranked teams -- Boston College (at home!) and at Maryland.

Pittsburgh (28-4): #4 in both polls. They lost at Providence, and lost to West Virginia in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Connecticut (27-4): #5 AP, #6 USA Today/ESPN. Georgetown, which didn't even make it to the Big Dance, beat them at home; and UConn also lost in the first round of the Big East tournament, to Syracuse.

None of these teams were able to win their own conference tournaments...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Madness

March Madness, that is. The frenzied conference tournaments are over, and so college basketball's showcase event, the NCAA Tournament, is set to begin.

North Carolina, Connecticut, Louisville, and Pitt are the Number 1 seeds.

Duke won the ACC tournament for something like the 8th time in 11 years, showing that perhaps they are NOT over-rated (see my blog entry, "Is Duke Over-rated?").

Arizona made the field for the 25th straight season. Many people feel that they shouldn't have, but they came on strong late in the season.

Our New Mexico Lobos didn't make the cut.

Interesting stories all around, once again. Can James Harden pull Arizona State into the Final Four? Can Michigan State find the consistency for a strong run? Will the Big East dominate (they have three of the four Number 1 seeds!)? Can North Carolina win it all? Which teams will spring the big upsets? Will there be a Cinderella team?

Can USC stay hot?

The Pac-10 is fairly well-represented, with six teams in the field. Only BYU and Utah of the Mountain West made it. Seven of the Big Ten's eleven teams are in, including Michigan and Minnesota; seven teams each from the ACC and the Big East.

In this tournament, you usually expect the unexpected. No predictions here; I gave that up some years ago. It's enough fun to simply sit back and enjoy the show.

Time for some hoop!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ComputerBob

In my earlier blog entry, "Turn It Into Something Good," I mentioned that used, discarded Windows computers can be brought back to life with Linux. ComputerBob, a guy who Mepis and Debian forum members are familiar with, spearheads a project in Florida taking used computers, installing Linux on 'em, and giving them to women at a domestic shelter he volunteers at.

I've been fortunate enough to have developed a personal correspondence with ComputerBob over the past couple of years. The guy has helped me out a lot, and continues to be a great sorce of info on computer-related stuff. Check out his web site: http://www.computerbob.com/. He's dropping tech news and info in there on a daily basis, and he's been at if for years!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Think You're All That?

A friend of mine emailed me the following images. You can click on them for a larger view.

Here are the Solar System's smaller planets:



Here's how they compare to the Solar System's gas giants:



Still tiny, compared to the Sun:



But the Sun isn't a large star:



In fact, it's kinda tiny:



A Hubble Telescope ultra deep-field infrared view of countless entire galaxies, billions of light-years away:



A close-up of one of the darkest regions of the photo above:




Keep things in perspective.

In the Slow Lane

Not everyone wants or needs a high-speed internet connection, especially when (as I've found) a dial-up connection can be so cheap. My friends know that I use 550Access, which offers a connection for $5.50 per month with no contract.

Looks like other folks don't mind sacrificing speed for savings: See "New way to save? Dial back to dial-up," an article posted at OrlandoSentinal.com.

Linux Tips for Geeks

Another "thank you" going out to ComputerBob for this tidbit: An article loaded with useful Linux tricks -- "Linux tips every geek should know."

Sixth Man?

It's a turning point for Allen Iverson. Looks like for the first time in his career, the Pistons' all-star guard will be coming off the bench, as Detroit returns Richard Hamilton to the starting lineup.

The Pistons have floundered since the trade that brought Iverson in for Chauncey Billups. Detroit has gone 22-28 with Iverson in the starting lineup, and their record on the season sits at 30-29. And while Billups' individual stats aren't that much better than Iverson's (18.7 ppg, 6.1 apg to AI's 18.0 and 5.1), the Nuggets have surged, and currently lead the Northwest Division with a 39-22 record.

Iverson has missed three games due to a bad back; Hamilton stepped into the starting lineup and led Detroit to victories in all three games.

In a 93-85 win at Orlando, Hamilton scored 31 points and dished out 6 assists. He had 25 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds in a 105-95 win at Boston.

Then, Billups returned to town with the Nuggets and popped in 34 points, but Detroit prevailed behind Hamilton's 21 points and 7 assists, 100-95, pretty much securing Iverson's spot on the bench.

Those three games are even more eye-popping considering that all three opponents are division leaders.

Iverson has, of course, grown up quite a bit over his 13-year career. But the explosive scorer has never been known as a good floor general, and he's never been all that great playing without the ball. Coming off the bench for the Pistons will test him, for sure. Here's hoping he can make the adjustment, fit in as a role player, and bring some heat when he steps onto the court.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Turn It Into Something Good

Some folks in Austin, TX have something nice going -- using Linux to help kids get computers.

As it says at the main page of the HeliOS Project's website:

What would eventually evolve into The HeliOS Project began in 2004 with three guys gathered around a dining room table. Ken Starks and two other military veterans began refurbishing cast-off computers and giving them to kids who didn't have one.

Of course, Linux is ideal for doing things like this -- I've taken a few discarded Windows computers and gotten them back up and running, using Linux as the operating system, at very little cost to me. Glad to see that someone is taking this idea and doing some good with it.

I understand that the HeliOS project has settled on Linux Mint as their distro of choice. Mint is one of the distros I use, and I think it'll work out fine.

I've been following the "Blog of helios" for some time. This guy writes some good stuff and is involved in some interesting Linux-related projects. Check it out, here's a link: Blog of helios.

Mepis on the Rise

Mepis has risen up to #6 on DistroWatch's list of Linux distros (a list that's based on page-hit rankings over the past 30 days). Nice to see, to whatever degree that the list indicates a distro's popularity.

A fairly even review of Mepis at Distrowatch: First look at SimplyMEPIS 8.0.

Another review, done by long-time Mepis user, Pastor Ron: Simply Mepis 8 is Finally Here.

I haven't tried Mepis 8 yet -- planning to install it sometime this week -- but I've gone through several Mepis versions, going back to 3.4-2 RC1. Warren Woodford helped pioneer the use of live/install CDs for use in Linux, and has consistently put out one of the more solid, easy-to-use Linux distros. Among the distros that aren't so difficult for folks new to Linux, I think that Mepis is among the best, rivalled by only a few, like Linux Mint and PCLinuxOS. I also think that Mepis compares well to distros that appeal to more experiences users, like Debian (which Mepis is based on and closely linked to). I have no doubt that this version of Mepis will turn out to be another fine system on my machines, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this distro to anyone.

MepisLovers forums: http://mepislovers.org/forums/index.php

Mepis Community Site: http://www.mepiscommunity.org/

Wallpapers

Here's a good site for finding nice (and FREE) desktop backgrounds: InterfaceLIFT.com.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Not Enough

The Suns fired coach Terry Porter after an All-Star weekend that saw Shaquille O'Neal share All-Star Game MVP honors with Kobe Bryant. Shaq tallied 17 points in only 11 minutes. Whether that's enough to be considered for MVP is certainly questionable, but maybe the fact that the game was played in Phoenix helped Shaq get a few votes.

With new coach Alvin Gentry at the helm, the Suns stormed out with impressive wins over the Clippers (140-100 and 142-119) and Oklahoma City (140-118) before being brought back down to earth at Boston, where they were pummeled 128-108. They followed that by winning two out of three, then upset the Lakers Sunday, 118-111.

That win against the Lakers is their only win against a half-way decent team since February 8th, when they won at Detroit, 107-97.

I'm impressed that they've been able to win a few without Steve Nash. I'm impressed that Shaq scored 45 against Toronto and followed that up with 33 against the Lakers.

I like that, from the free-throw line, Shaq shot 65.9% in December, 67.7% in January, and 62.7% in February. Great shooting, by his standards.

I didn't like that Shaq's 11 rebounds against Miami were offset by Shawn Marion's 11, and that the Big Fellah still averages under 9 per game. He only managed to pull down 7 boards in 35 minutes in the win against the Lakers.

I don't like that despite going 6-2 since the All-Star break, the Suns remain 13.5 games behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division, and 2 games behind Dallas for the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

There seems to be a glimmer of hope, but a look at the big picture indicates it'll be a case of "too little, too late." The next six games will tell a lot. Phoenix faces a four-game road trip, with trips to Orlando, Miami, Houston, and San Antonio. Then they return home to face Dallas and Cleveland.

Success during this stretch could put them into position to make the playoffs. But these six upcoming games are all against teams with winning records; 5 of the Suns' 6 wins since the All-Star break have come against the Clippers (twice), Oklahoma City, Charlotte, and Toronto. All bad teams.

The Suns' playoff chances still seem quite remote.