Last Links of 2011

I have added a half-dozen or so links to the navigation bar. In no particular order they are:

DuckDuckGo – A nifty search engine.
Classilla – A web browser for 9.2.2.
Contrary Brin – The blog of David Brin, author.
Macintosh Garden – A repository of classic Macintosh software.
Tucows – A source of software for all operating systems.
Red NoteBook – The sourceforge site for Red NoteBook journaling software.

Two additional blogs that do need an introduction are Black Crow, White Owl and Halcyon Dreams.

Black Crow, White Owl is the blog of my friend Melissa. Melissa talents are incredibly diverse; her artwork ranges from watercolors to photography. Her work is never dull or random, her style is all her own.

Halcyon Dreams was an accidental discovery. I added Vel on Facebook to further a game I was playing and found I couldn’t delete her from my friends list due to her incredible photography. He blog tends to focus on her craftiness over her photography; Vel’s talents in both areas are incredible. I wish she had a storefront.

As tonight and this year rolls to close, take a minute to look back and enjoy 2011.

Making do with OS 9.2

Macintosh OS 9.2.2 was the last OS released by Apple before OS X. It lacks a lot of polish of modern OS’es but when combined with the laptops of the day, it can offer a cheap and easy alternative to a more expensive laptop or netbook.

Comfort and cheap are the watch words for using 9.2 on a laptop. I purchased a clamshell iBook two years ago for $35. eBay! The iBook was distinctive and sturdy. The full size keyboard and USB port are great. The hard drive is pretty wimpy at less than 20 Gb, but a key chain drive can solve that problem.

When I ask myself if I am willing to risk losing my netbook camping, the answer is no. A $35 dollar computer is worth the risk. Theft really isn’t an option, the iBook draws a lot of attention, is too big to fit in a standard backpack, is nearly useless to a modern user and has no virus protection what so ever. It is a big gumdrop colored poison-pill. At a recent Con, my iBook was such a big attention getter, it disappeared from my site for an hour while people played with it. I was pretty concerned until it returned. The borrowers remember not only OS 9.2, but they remembered me.

The other compelling reason for using such an old machine is the battery life. A decade old battery isn’t going to work, but a brand new one holds a much longer charge than the original. More amp hours equals more computing. I find I can use my iBook all day long without recharging.

Web browsing is difficult under 9.2.2. Most websites with video won’t work and Flash isn’t very advisable. On the other hand, email is very doable. I find Classilla is the best web browser for this application. It’s controls allow you to turn off features that simply won’t work. As a bonus, many ads simply won’t appear.

The 1999 computers all had adequate business tools. My choice is Word and Excel, which is odd because I never suggest Microsoft products. BareBones also provides an excellent text editor. GifConverter is wonderful under OS 9. To round my software, I have added iTunes, Adobe Reader 5.0 and a couple of games.

There are a pair of websites that can give you access to old software: Tucows and Macintosh Garden. Tucows offers software for all computers while Macintosh Garden offers a selection of Mac abandonware. Of course there are issues with both sites. Tucows has been a software repository for years, but has de-emphasized this part of its business. Macintosh Garden is hosting software they do not own, however they comply with take down requests.

If you are concerned with legal issues or access issues, there is the easy alternative: shopping for discs online or thrift stores. There is not a thing wrong with owning the disc for your software. Make sure your chat up your favorites.

WiFi for the iBook is limited to B or G types. This is an issue in a secured environment. These secured networks need a newer card than the hardware can support. I find that I have few problems logging in at the local coffee shop, library, and restaurants. I just make sure I don’t touch anything that requires security my blog, my email or my bank account.

As long as you are aware of the limitations, OS 9.2 offers a range of options with a low sticker price.

Coby Kyros Tablet Review

The Coby Kyros Tablet is not a contender for a tablet computer at the original list price of $250.00. However, now that the average price is about $100, the Kyros becomes more relevant. It is not a iPad to be sure and it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but for a hundred bucks, it does offer a lot.

The Kyros features a cool name and 7 inch touch screen. The touch screen is not all it could be, it does require either your built-in fingernail included with most humans or the stylist the product ships with. Since this is stylist based, no gestures or finger pinches will work. If you can stay out of the web browser, you won’t notice the shortcomings of the screen. Browsing the web merely amplifies the quirks of the touch screen.

The Kyros has 4 buttons on the front: Home, back, an oddly marked “menu button” and a search button. Power and volume controls are on the right side. The bottom edge is home to an micro-SD card slot, headphone jack, a mini USB port and the charger port. All of the buttons and ports are firm in their action. On the backside of the device is a good-sized speaker.

Power is an issue with this tablet, it runs down in less than 8 hours, sometimes a few as 4 hours. The USB port is not able to trickle charge the device, it requires 5V at 2 amps. That is too much for a USB to handle. The only option is the charger.

Kyros comes with email, browser, YouTube Video player, a music app, and Aldiko. ES File Explore is a handy app for moving files around. It’s copy-paste function is very cool, a tab pops up at the bottom displaying files. You can copy 10 files from one place and paste them one at a time in different locations. Very cool. The Aldiko eReader app is store driven and while there are ways to import epubs, it is easier to search and download them from the store.

The Wireless connection is B/G/N, it is easy to set up. Downloading books takes only seconds per file. Turning off the Wi-fi is simple, two clicks in settings.

So what is missing? A text editor. GetJar, the Kyros version of Android Market, does have a program called NotesLite which can plug the gap, but it is a half measure.

What does it Kyros have going for it? It is cheap. It comes with a 4 GB micro-SD card with adapter, a USB cord and a $10 gift certificate for eMusic. I hate to sound like an infomercial, but that is a value of about $20. Shave that off of price and this is a $80 dollar tablet.

Kyros would be an excellent device to hack and mod, as the tablet is essentially a giant cell phone. For 100 bucks it does do a little of everything, but nothing shines. I give it a C+.

DuckDuckGo and Google

Obviously my favourite search engine is Google. I use a Google Product everyday, from my searches to my web stats, Google serves my day-to-day purposes.

So why would I want to use a new search engine like DuckDuckGo?

It comes down to history. Google is optimised for me, it knows every bit of my search history, it knows what sort of sites I visit and might even be aware of what I write. I searched for “kobo browser extras” My blog is 3rd on the list. Logging out cause my site to drop to number 4. That is a 25% drop, so obviously Google is offering me my stuff in preference to other websites.

Something strange happens when I go to DuckDuckGo and do the same search. My blog does not appear in the results at all. The reason? History. My one post is not that significant when compared to everything else on the web. That search was humbling. Bing provides similar results as does Yahoo.

The obvious conclusion is that those engines do not crawl my site often. That may be true, but I can force the search to find my blog by adding more words. There is a point where enough words lands my blog at number one. The odd thing is taking words from two different posts does not push my site higher on DuckDuckGo or any of the other engines for that matter.

Now we have two facts to work with and a third hiding in the background:

1 – When logged in, Google serves you information based on past searches.
2 – When logged out, Google is still tracking you in some way.
And the hidden third? Search Engines do not see blogs as a single site, it sees them as a series of pages.

Armed with those facts, I now know my blog is not that popular with engines and my search statistics are skewed.

What can I do to fix it? Backlinking is one method, but that is very shady. It is one thing to have a backlink from another site, but it is entirely different to “generate backlinks”. The generation is spammy as it requires a bunch of useless posts and a burning of energy and time that could be used to improve my website.

A better use of my time is to create a monthly or topic based archive of my posts in flat HTML files. This creates a page of information about a variety of subjects that engines can search. It is engine friendly.

It is not a huge boost, but the archive can push your blog from no listing to the last listing.

Right now, this is just a theory and I will be experimenting in the new year.

So subscribe and stay tuned.

RedNotebook Review

RedNotebook is an impressive modern cross-platform journal. I have tested out the software for the past week and it is quite powerful. Many features lend themselves to blogging which is very nice.

At a glance, RedNotebook looks like a planner. On the left side is a calendar; on the right, a text window. On the bottom left is a word cloud, identical to those found on blogs. The word cloud window also doubles as a search box.

There are easy forward, back and today buttons for clicking through days. The next set of tools are Preview, Template, Insert and Format.

The template feature is very nice; gedit pops open for the creation process, and RedNotebook will save it in a menu for later. For example, a create travel expense template and plug it into a current entry. The templates can be as simple or complex as required.

Insert will plug-in various items directly into entries. The choices are files, links, pictures, a time/date stamp, line and line break, bullet lists or title format. Format choices are bold, underlined, italics and strike-through.

Spell check is available for Linux systems and appears to mimic Word or Open Office. RedNotebook auto-saves, which is handy if you are forgetful or prone to letting your battery die.

The software excels at to-do lists and journal entries, but I find it useful for blogs and other forms of writing. Tagging and word clouds gives a real-time “snap shot” of your writing.

RedNotebook supports exporting of entries by a date range in PDF, HTML, Latex and plain text. These formats are useful on computers but I find them more useful with e-readers.

I love cross-platform software. Compatible with Linux, Mac and Windows, RedNotebook is one of those pieces of software that lets you feel at home with whatever computer you happen to be using.

Kobo Review

The Kobo Touch was release in mid-2011 with wifi, a standard mini-USB port, SD micro card slot and of course, a touch screen. The Touch is one of the lightest e-readers on the market at 7 ounces. The product has a quilted back, a feature that seemed cheap to me – like fake leather seats. However after many hours of use, the purpose became clear. The quilted surface provides a grip, something that is missing in most e-readers. The device has only two buttons, home and off. The off switch is dual purpose, a quick slide for sleep and a slide and hold for off.

The onboard memory is roughly 2 GB and holds more than a dozen preview books. I didn’t explore these title in-depth, not one of them suited my reading tastes so I deleted them. I journeyed to Project Gutenberg for all of my reading needs.

Initially the Kobo’s interface seemed very clunky, every press of the screen caused a slight delay. But the features provided were incredibly useful: books can be added to a “shortlist” or deleted from the device, dictionary access inside of books, pages can be rotated, zoomed, the text shrunk or enlarged and a link to Facebook.com. The Kobo team really made all the right moves with the user interface.

A recent update solved the speed issues and enhanced functionality. A clock was added to the front page of the device, moving it from a hard to find control panel. A sketch program updated to “Sketchbook”, a Sudoku game installed and the web browser joins the other software under “Extras”. All of these programs are labelled “unsupported” but they all function very well.

The 1.9.16 update cleaned up the machine. The home page has the last 5 books accessed from the library. A new drop down list shows ads for featured book available in the store, but can show New Releases or up to 5 books from your Shortlist.

Under the home menu the following options are available:

Store – As advertised, it is a store front for the Kobo.
Library – An alphabetical listing of all of your books. It can also be viewed by Title, file type, author and recent reads. A search option is available.
Reading Life – A list of built-in encouragements to continue reading. Not terribly useful but really fun.
Settings – Everything you need to tweak the Kobo. The last menu choice is Extras which includes Sketchbook, a web browser and Sudoku.
Help – A more than adequate selection of help files.
Sync – Allow you to sync your library over wifi. Very nice.

The Kobo can read ePub, HTML, TXT, PDF, Jpeg, Tiff, PNG, GIF and BMP files. This list is great, but remember each file has its own limitations. I find that PDF works on most phones, computers, e-readers, etc. but does not delivery a good e-reader experience. There is a difference between zooming in and changing text size. The Kobo handles PDF’s well, but when zooming navigation becomes cluttered. A window opens on the upper left, a menu appears on the bottom of the screen and two turn page buttons appear on the left and right side. Not the best experience, but it works. If you have another choice, use it.

One glitch has softened my enthusiasm for the Kobo. The last update knocked out my wifi. I can only connect to open networks. For obvious reasons, I don’t have one of those. This disables many of the bells and whistles of Facebook and store connectivity. Granted, I suggest turning the wifi off for day-to-day use, but it is annoying. The Kobo website does not cover this issue; perhaps this a minor update glitch. Kobo’s tech support is easy to find on the web and they even have a Facebook page.

I fired off a quick email this afternoon. This is a Canadian holiday, so I don’t expect a response today. Since this is also the day after Christmas, I think I can forgive them for making me wait until about mid-January. I will let you know if they can beat my expectations. No wifi isn’t a killer.

At the end of the day, the Kobo is a good all round e-reader. The slick interface and good case design earn it an B+ in my book. I can knock off the + due to the Christmas week update killing my wifi, rounding the final grade to an B. There is every possibility that Kobo Inc will recover the + with some tech support wizardry.

Good Reading folks.

Kindle Review

My wife received a Kindle for Christmas. She had shown some jealously when I bought my Kobo so I knew she needed one of these e-readers.

The Kindle is less than six ounces, sports a 6″ screen, a standard mini USB port and a micro SD card port. It has “only” 2 GB of memory; I understand this is a downgrade from other Kindle products, but 2 GB is huge for e-books.

The frame of the device is plastic while the smooth front and back are metal. The Kindle has a solid feel to it despite its light weight. Buttons are well spaced and crisp in function.

After a few minutes of holding the Kindle, I discover it should be cradled in the palm of your hand, your thumb over the page button and your fingers on the opposite side also rest the page forward and back button. An alternate method is to place a corner of the Kindle in the center of your palm and rest your thumb on the page forward button. The buttons are firm and have a downward action. This prevents accidental page turns. The other six buttons are at the bottom of the product, safely out of reach and are unnecessary for reading.

The other six buttons are:

Power – On/sleep or a long press for “off.”
Back – Takes you back one screen, moving seamlessly from books, to home and through setting pages.
Home – As labeled, takes you home.
Settings – Calls up useful features appropriate to the screen viewed. Can be used to search for text in books or search for wifi on the home page.
Keyboard – Calls up an on-screen keyboard.
Select and directional pad – Just like a Nintendo controller.

The home page is clean, there are only two possible functions on this screen: Books and Battery life. The battery meter is on all screens, which is a nice touch. Pressing the Setting button calls up Wifi controls, the store, change font size, search and Settings, Screen Rotation and an experiential web browser.

Text is clear and sharp and if you don’t like the size, you can easily change it. The bookmark feature is handy but the Notes are better. Simply use the directional pad to navigate to line of the text, then hit the keyboard button. Typing is difficult with the directional pad, but easy enough to get in a few words. The notes and bookmark features are rolled together so you don’t lose your notes on a random page. Very nice.

The Kindle only supports 4 file types: AZW, TXT, PDF and MOBI. This is more than adequate for reading, but leaves out the possibility of personal pictures and such. I did not have time to test a PDF, but I find that the format does not give the best reading experience.

Something is horribly wrong with my wife’s Kindle.** It does not display ads as it should. I don’t know why. Instead it displays pleasant images of pencils, books and typewriters. My wife hates the pictures and I completely fail to see why. Well, every product has a glitch or two.

I give the Kindle an A. It performs very well and is a dream to set up. I can’t find a single fault with the device, although I doubt that anyone will use the keyboard function for more than a few words. All and all, it is an excellent experience.

Read on.

**Updated – It appears nothing is wrong with the device, offers only appear after a download from Amazon.com. Silly me.

Make a static WordPress page without a lick of code

So, you have a WordPress blog and want a static front page. The front page makes your blog look more a like a website. This is easy, click here for a detailed explanation.

Now suppose you want to do the reverse, create a static page with the same style as your blog, without it being a blog entry.

You could just code the page, but WordPress has an easier option. Create a page or post and set it private. Don’t forget to use the spell check and other options available within WordPress before saving. Now click view post or view page. Right click and hit view source code. Save this to a file with a good name.

You will need to edit the file a bit. Open the file in your text editor and find and replace the word “Private” with nothing. Painless and no code required. Save and upload this to the directory where your website resides. I suggest a creating a folder called “static”.

Now you can view this page within your browser. Copy the link and add it to a post, a page or a link on your blog.

Now… why would you want to do this? Certain types of data don’t lend themselves to a blog post. A multi-page walk through, a detailed description of a past event, etc. These topics can form the backbone of your site. Be sure to post on the topic to give addition access to the static page. The result is a clutter free blog with an extra layer of content.

Gemstone IV review

Gemstone IV is a persistent MMORPG, running since 1988. The player base is measured in the thousands with hundreds of player logged in at anytime. Gemstones IV is unusual, it is text-based. All locations, actions and events are described via the game window. Commands are input in a style similar to the old Infocom Games such as Zork or Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

Read More…

Install Google Chrome in Mint using LXTerminal

Install via terminal

In LXTerminal run the following command.

sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

Gedit will open. Paste the following source into the list:
deb http://dl.google.com/linux/deb/stable non-free main

Save and exit gedit. LXTerminal should pop back up.

Now run the following command in a single go (remember shift ctrl-v to paste into the terminal):

wget -q -O – https://dl-ssl.google.com/linux/linux_signing_key.pub | sudo apt-key add – && sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install google-chrome-stable

Breaking all of those commands down:

wget: get from web.
-q modifier means quiet, as in turn off output.
-O stands write to output file.
The address is where the wget is going to get information.
Apt-key add simply adds a repository key.
The – && means go to directory and do commands.
sudo apt-get update – check for updates.
sudo apt-get install – install Chrome and updates.
google-chrome-stable is the program name.

Chrome has four simple setup steps.

Select a search engine, Bing, Google or Yahoo.

Select a default browser.

The bookmark page has a link to import bookmarks from other browsers.

I am rather surprised that Firefox is an unsupported browser for importing bookmarks.

Well, time for Angry Birds.

Simple, right.