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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair

Regular blog here, 'microblog' there

Many of my traditional blog post live on this site, but a great majority of my social-style posts can be found on my much-busier microbloging site at updates.passthejoe.net. It's busier because my BlogPoster "microblogging" script generates short, Twitter-style posts from the Linux or Windows (or anywhere you can run Ruby with too many Gems) command line, uploads them to the web server and send them out on my Twitter and Mastodon feeds.

I used to post to this blog via scripts and Unix/Linux utilities (curl and Unison) that helped me mirror the files locally and on the server. Since this site recently moved hosts, none of that is set up. I'm just using SFTP and SSH to write posts and manage the site.

Disqus comments are not live just yet because I'm not sure about what I'm going to do for the domain on this site. I'll probably restore the old domain at first just to have some continuity, but for now I like using the "free" domain from this site's new host, NearlyFreeSpeech.net.

Mon, 29 Oct 2012

My new, old WordPress blog

Click, the blog I write under the auspices of my employer, has moved from Movable Type to WordPress.

The move was prompted by the company's decision to phase out Movable Type, which they've been using since the MT 3 days.

I can't say I'm surprised. While there's a certain flexibility in what you can do in Movable Type (like setting up any number of feeds and kinds of HTML output without regard to themes), the multiblog capability is integrated in a way that WordPress isn't anywhere near, and every damn thing is a static HTML file (if you want it that way), the platform is getting creaky, there's not much of a community, especially compared to WordPress, and the whole WP ecosystem of plugins and themes is pretty much nonexistent.

That said, I got to know Movable Type pretty well, I will miss it, I have to figure out how to build a whole lot of stuff that is easy (and already built in MT).

But there are so many things that WordPress brings to the proverbial table, things I'm learning about as I go, that it's going to be an equally proverbial adventure.

Fri, 26 Oct 2012

GNU MediaGoblin -- a free, open alternative to YouTube, Flickr where you can share media with whoever the hell you want to share it with

I've heard rumblings about GNU MediaGoblin, software that enables anybody to set up a media-sharing system that can substitute for things like YouTube and Flickr -- you know, those proprietary services that take our content, make money off of it and justify that moneymaking by giving us "free" access to our own stuff.


I don't have time to go into MediaGoblin right now, but I'm very excited by the prospect and hope I can give it a try soon.

Tue, 23 Oct 2012

I spent the day in Xfce

I've got no beef with GNOME 3. But I still have two desktop environments installed on this Debian Wheezy system. Today I used the other one, Xfce 4.8.

Nothing to complain about. Xfce in Debian is always a little rough around the edges, most of which I've smoothed out at this point. I'm looking at Xubuntu and Fedora's Xfce spin as potential candidates for my next install.

About the only thing that's not working great in Debian Wheezy with Xfce is the touchpad on this Lenovo G555. In Wheezy with GNOME 3, the touchpad is preconfigured in such a way that it doesn't randomly delete text like it does when running Windows 7 (or previous Linux systems, for that matter). Something in this GNOME setup is taking care of the terrible Alps touchpad on this laptop, and I wish I knew exactly what.

That's because in Xfce, the touchpad defaults to not working at all. That's not much of a problem because I rarely use it. But sometimes -- pretty much when I'm watching video -- I like to use the touchpad.

I've seen xorg hacks (thanks Linux Mint Debian users!) to turn on the touchpad for Xfce, but once I do this, I get the same poor touchpad performance in Xfce AND GNOME.

So right now I'm settling for great touchpad performance in GNOME, none in Xfce. Until I figure it out.

Thu, 18 Oct 2012

The Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 pencil

I lucked into a couple of these Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100 pencils. They're "artists' pencils," I presume. No eraser on the end.

One is an HB, which is equivalent to the standard No. 2 pencil lead. The other is a 2B.

They are made in Germany.

Construction is flawless. The wood is of high quality.

The leads are smooth and long-lasting. I can't complain.

  • Read much more about the Staedtler Mars Lumograph at Pencil Revolution, Pencil Talk and PenciLog

  • Apologies for the photograph. Again, it's a cell-phone image. I worked on it a bit in the GIMP to bump up brightness and contrast, and I used unsharp mask to sharpen it.

I did a major OwnCloud update -- and it worked

I haven't used OwnCloud much over the past few months. And I let my installation get old.

I just did an upgrade from 3.0.2 to 4.5.0 in a single operation. OwnCloud is complicated: The update consists of 4,562 files.

Once the files transferred, the system didn't work. But the fix was easy: OwnCloud 4.5.0 requires PHP 5.3. My shared hosting account defaults to PHP 5.2. PHP 5.3 must be called in the .htaccess file. I was doing that in version 3.0.2, but part of my upgrade included a new .htaccess file from OwnCloud.

I went into .htaccess, added my hosting provider's recommended code to invoke PHP 5.3, and OwnCloud 4.5.0 began working immediately.

One of the things about 4.5.0 that I'm most excited about is the ability to upgrade OwnCloud from within the application itself. Sure beats transferring 4,562 files over FTP.

Tue, 16 Oct 2012

Iceweasel 10.0.09 ESR update for Debian Wheezy

The "fast" pace of Iceweasel/Firefox and Icedove/Thunderbird releases over the past couple of years has really thrown longer-term Linux distributions for a loop.

The Mozilla-coded apps quickly get very old, and it's harder and harder for Debian developers to patch those older versions with the latest security fixes when the upstream code leaves the distro's original version further and further behind.

And enterprises, educational institutions and people who like things to stay the same aren't terribly excited by applications that change versions from month to month, regardless of what actual changes are happening in the code. Never mind that those changes are often significant enough to break things built for a platform that is moving too quickly for many tastes.

Enter the Extended Support Release version of Firefox and Thunderbird. After seeing its Mozilla applications get really old really fast in Squeeze, Debian picked up on the ESR releases of Iceweasel and Icedove for Wheezy. That's what I see in CentOS, Scientific Linux and Stella as well, so it appears that even Red Hat Enterprise Linux has opted for ESR.

Sure there are features in the "consumer" version of Firefox (which Ubuntu follows even for its LTS release) that users of ESR will miss, but between stability in terms of functionality and knowing that these web-connected applications are fully patched, the peace of mind is well worth it.

Iceweasel 10.0.09esr just rolled onto my Debian Wheezy box. I'm glad to see it.

Mon, 15 Oct 2012

Pencils -- it's a thing

Pencils are a thing. I started using pencils -- mechanical and wooden -- more and more over the past year.

I have lost most of my mechanical pencils. They seem to walk away. While I just bought a load of cheap Bics, I've been increasingly drawn to the traditional wooden pencil (ring the bell, take a drink, do what you would do whenever a bad pencil pun appears in an article about same).

Pens have lost their usefulness for me in my so-called work (writing, making and modifying lists, taking notes, etc). The ink bleeds, I make too many mistakes that need to be crossed out. With a well-sharpened pencil, my writing is clear. It's clean. I can erase. On paper, pencil marks don't smudge in the same way as those made with ballpoint (or gel) ink.

Overall, writing with a pencil is an enjoyable experience. That's the main thing.

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Raspberry Pi single-board $35 computer's RAM doubles from 256 to 512 MB

The all-the-rage Raspberry Pi single-board, ARM-based computer is a great device for embedded uses -- I'm eager to turn one into a print server -- but isn't well-appointed as a desktop substitute.

News that its memory is doubling to 512 MB (H-Online, RaspberryPi.org) and that all boards are being assembled in the U.K. instead of China while the price is sticking at is welcome.

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Fri, 12 Oct 2012

Developer not happy with direction of Ubuntu

Paul Tagliamonte writes a short post I found via Planet Debian titled Stuff that's bothering me about Ubuntu right now.

Many have complained about the Amazon results that pop up when you search even your local drive, but I haven't seen much reaction to Ubuntu's solicitation of donations in the boot screen for the live disc.

Paul is not in favor, and he frames it in an interesting way:

... begging for a handout when people Download Ubuntu — without an option to donate to Debian, which  composes over 70% of the Desktop, I get upset.

I feel cheated, and I’m not even involved on a day-to-day anymore.

I’m ashamed of what’s going on now, and I hope we find a better way to serve our users.
Sat, 06 Oct 2012

Google Chromebooks are looking better and better

Even though I guess I'm a "power user," I'm starting to agree with Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols' idea that Google's Chromebooks are a compelling choice.

If you're comfortable with Google services and doing everything in its cloud, or if you're doing it anyway, these devices are cheap enough, starting at , and due to their light Ubuntu-derived OS boot right away and run acceptably fast. They have a six-hour battery life. From an updates and security perspective, they're virtually maintenance-free.

If you lose one or it breaks, you just move on to a new one. All your stuff is in the cloud.

I'm pitching them to my company. Very soon now, we'll be able to do just about everything we do with a Chromebook. It's cheaper than an iPad, way more usable for things like writing, and the tight integration with Google is a win for those already committed to the search giant's services.